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Kansas State marching band earns top trophy, plays Alamo Bowl halftime

The Kansas State University marching band was recently named one of the best in the nation.
The Kansas State University marching band was recently named one of the best in the nation. Courtesy of Scott Sewell

Correction: Mary Wagoner is piccolo section leader of the K-State marching band. Her instrument was incorrect in a previous version of this story.

Kansas State has a top-ranked football team. Now it will play at the Alamo Bowl accompanied by one of the nation’s best marching bands.

In December, Frank Tracz, director of Kansas State University bands, traveled to Chicago to accept the prestigious Sudler Trophy given out by the John Philip Sousa Foundation.

Sousa wrote only a handful of marches for universities. Kansas State is one of those schools, and the “Wildcat March” is one of the few constants in the marching band’s repertoire.

The traveling trophy is given out every two years, and it is the highest honor a collegiate marching band can receive, said Donald Linn, assistant director of bands for K-State. K-State is the 30th university to receive the award.

He also said that the trophy doesn’t mean K-State has the best band in the nation. There wasn’t any sort of competition that K-State won to give it that title. Linn said the trophy means more than winning a competition, however.

“It measures not just greatness or all the great stuff we did this year, or last year, but everything that has been accomplished over the entire lifespan of the band,” Linn said.

The Sudler Trophy is closer to a lifetime achievement award than anything else, which explains why no band has ever received the award twice. The award reflects the attitude at K-State, Linn said.

“It’s been recognition of something that’s been known for a long time. Our marching band has had a tradition of excellence, and it’s one of the finest marching bands in the United States,” Linn said.

However, Linn said, the band can always get better.

For now, that means preparing for Friday’s Alamo Bowl matchup of K-State and UCLA.

The band boarded buses in Manhattan on Tuesday morning for the 12-hour drive to San Antonio. Once in the city, the band started its three-day frenzy, including two rehearsals and at least seven performances or pep performances.

“We’re going to play on the River Walk, and we’ll play some kind of band on a boat, too. I’m pretty excited,” said Mary Wagoner, piccolo section leader of the K-State marching band.

Although the band does get to rehearse a couple of times before it takes the field, band members don’t get to practice on the field itself. The first time the band will set foot on the field will be during its six-minute pregame performance. Normally, the band gets a 13-minute pregame show.

“It’s a high-energy show,” Linn said. “We just do fewer things.”

The band also gets a six-minute performance during halftime because it is splitting halftime with the UCLA marching band and a group of high school bands, some of which are from Kansas.

It will be performing its shortened Beatles routine, which includes “Eleanor Rigby.”

Although 12 minutes is a small amount of time compared to the six months of work and 12-hour bus ride to get there, Wagoner says she’s excited. She played last year when K-State went to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in Arizona. She said the experience was really satisfying.

“That performance was probably the best I’ve ever felt after any performance,” Wagoner said.

She said that feeling is a reward for the band’s hard work.

The band’s work starts early in August. Before most students arrive for classes in Manhattan, band members are marching their way through a five-day band camp. The students spend about 10 hours a day learning marching basics, music and the band’s pregame routine as well as preparing for a couple of shows around Manhattan at the end of the week, Linn said.

When school begins, the band can’t put in 50 hours a week anymore, and the practices taper off. Wagoner said she practices about six hours a week plus about 10 hours on game days. The band directors try to minimize the amount of time they require from their students, Linn said.

“We recognize the students are here for other things,” Linn said. “We want them to be the best engineers or music majors or animal science majors that they could possibly be. So we put the responsibility on us as a staff to make sure that we are ultra-organized, that we use every ounce of the time we have to put a good product on the field.”

The 402 members in the band are working toward 120 of the majors offered at K-State. However, the two biggest majors among band members are music education, with 19.3 percent, and engineering, with 17.6 percent.

Along with musicians, the band includes twirlers, a color guard and the Classy Cats dance team.

The Sudler Trophy recognizes the amount of work that directors such as Tracz and Linn put into their programs. The honor reflects well on the university and acknowledges the long hours.

“It puts Kansas State on the map,” Linn said. “We won that trophy, and it’s not anything that can be taken away. The name of Kansas State University will forever be associated with this award.”

Although the award is given to the university, it’s the directors who make impressions on the students. According to Wagoner, that impression has been huge and positive.

“They put in a ton of work. We’re so grateful to have them to teach us and have all their awesomeness rub off on us,” Wagoner said.

Alamo Bowl

Who: Kansas State vs. UCLA

When: 5:45 p.m. Friday

Where: Alamodome, San Antonio

Radio: KQAM, 1480 AM; KWLS, 107.9 FM

TV: ESPN

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