In this Sept. 3, 2016, file photo, the Marching 97 performs at an alumni tailgate for the first home game at Goodman Stadium. The marching band has performed on Lehigh’s campus since 1906. (Ian Smith/B&W Staff)

Football’s hype man: Marching 97 preps for its biggest game of the season

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Every Saturday in the fall, every college football team across the country is supported by fans, students and cheerleaders that gather for spirited tailgates before the game.

Every team has big games, and every team has a rival.

But no other team has the Marching 97.

Lehigh’s historic marching band has brought spirit and energy to campus since 1906, and to this day it plays a key role in making each Lehigh football game an experience to remember.

“We can always hear them come into the stadium during pre-game warm-ups,” said senior kicker Ed Mish. “During the game, our band is louder than the other team’s band regardless of if it’s a home or away game. Even though the entire band doesn’t travel it still brings high energy and makes its attendance known by everyone in the stadium.”

Every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, while the football team practices for its game, the band is on the other side of Goodman Campus, doing the same. During those practices, the band goes over its music and field shows to be sure it’s putting its best show forward.

Everything the Marching 97 does is designed by the students.

“People probably don’t know that the Marching 97 is actually entirely student-run,” said trumpeter Nick Sireci, ’21. “We have our own elected executive board, choose our own music, write the drill for every one of our shows, schedule and conduct our own rehearsals, schedule all of our appearances and generally do everything ourselves.”

On game days, as the football team warms up on the field, the band warms up in the parking lots.

The band travels from tailgate to tailgate, getting Lehigh fans ready for the game.

“We go to various tailgates and play fight songs,” said senior manager Eddie Gardiner. “One of the stops is the football parents’ tailgate. We play for them and other well-established tailgates that have been around for a while.”

During the game, members of the Marching 97 make it their goal to be as rowdy and energetic as possible.

“Something that we talked about a lot is trying to play more during games,” Gardiner said. “One thing that we do is whenever Lehigh gets a first down we play a tag — there’s a total of five or six — and when the team is on a drive we’ll play in between plays… We’ve found that kind of gets the energy up, in particular when it’s a critical point in the game. It riles up the band and it riles up the fans. We’ve been having more fun with that recently.”

This week’s game is arguably the most important of the season — the 154th meeting of Lehigh against Lafayette will feature two teams looking to end their seasons on a high note.

“Le-Laf is its own season,” Mish said. “As seniors, our legacy is determined by how many times we beat Laf. The tradition of this game shows how much it means to the entire Lehigh community and we are all excited to get out on the field to represent ourselves and make the community proud.”

During the week leading up to the game, there are events on campus to generate excitement for the game. For the Marching 97, none are more anticipated than EcoFlame.

In the 1970s, an economics professor asked the band to play for his Economics 001 class on the Friday before the Lehigh-Lafayette game, and a tradition was born.

From 8 a.m. to noon, members of the Marching 97 go from class to class, playing fight songs and causing a spirit-induced commotion.

“Everyone gets very excited when the band comes into class or plays in the middle of campus,” Mish said. “Freshmen are always amazed by the school spirit the band brings during that week. It’s obvious how much pride the band takes in getting students excited for the game.”

The sounds of EcoFlame can be heard throughout campus all morning.

EcoFlame is also a personal favorite of Gardiner because of the way it involves everyone on campus.

“It fires people up who aren’t going out of the way to be involved in Lehigh-Lafayette,” he said. “We bring the spirit to them instead of them going to where the spirit is.”the

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