In 110 years, a lot has changed at Lehigh.
It has grown in size and program offerings. It has accepted women students and increased its diversity. It has built new buildings and made new discoveries.
But amid all the changes, the Marching 97 has been a staple of campus spirit.
The band’s also carry out Lehigh traditions that are long-gone. The members know if they don’t keep these alive, the traditions will die with them.
Members wear dinks even though the campus tradition of doing so died down in the 70s.
“If we don’t continue some of those traditions, they’re just going to get lost,” said Alexander Ferencin, ‘17, the band’s staff assistant. “As things go on, times change and the band changes and evolves, but we still like to recognize our roots and keep up some of the old traditions.”
The band doesn’t just keep long-gone traditions alive. Members describe the band as being “the keepers of the psyche.”
“I think psyche is our enthusiasm and spirit and fun that we bring,” said Joey Rompallo, ‘19, a freshman manager, also called refritch. “We bring psyche in a lot of different ways, we bring it through our music, but also our demeanor like bursting into classes and how we’re silly.”
Creating that feeling of psyche is what the band strives to do each time it plays. Rompallo said she gets excited just looking at people’s reactions when the band plays. The spectators’ excitement motivates her to be more psyched.
“The band members have to be excited for everybody else to be excited,” drum major Jon Wood, ‘17, said.
What students see as the band marches around campus playing fight songs is only a sliver of what it does. It meets before fall classes start and trains during band camp, where a lot of the traditions are carried out bonds are created across class years and ranks.
The band trains twice a week and before Saturday home games. Often, the 97 is practicing at Goodman Campus even before the football players arrive for game day.
The quirkiness of the group shines through in its goofy hijinks, as it has weird traditions it cherishes. Before games, members go to the men’s bathroom and play the Star Wars theme song. It’s harmless yet funny things like that which sets the band apart.
“It’s goofy and stupid things like that that honestly just make the 97 what it is, and we couldn’t ask for anything else other than that,” said Joe Dolde, ’19, a freshman manager, also called refrotch. “We couldn’t ask for the bizarre traditions from anybody else.”
Rob Hillman, ’17, the band’s manager, said it’s just a group of weird people who love what they do.
The 97 is made up of 12 ranks of eight musicians each, the 97th member being the drum major. Each rank is composed of musicians who play similar instruments.
Each rank has “psyche nights” where members hang out outside of rehearsal times.
“Social time outside of rehearsals is really the only way the group is going to mesh as a unit,” Wood said.
Overall, its emphasis on tradition and a willingness to be goofy and focused at the same time create a bonding experience for most members of the band.
“As soon as I (joined the band) I just felt so at home and welcomed,” Rompallo said. “Even by the first day of orientation everyone already had 96 other friends”