Four days after the Kansas State University marching band caused a national stir with its halftime show at the Wildcats’ first football game of the season, Frank Tracz described the controversy as “downright stupid.”
“There are other things in the world that need our attention other than this,” the K-State marching band director said Wednesday during an interview inside his office. “Without question, this is stupid. This is just downright stupid.
“It is amazing that it got to this point.”
Tracz landed in hot water Saturday when some argued that a “Star Wars/Star Trek”-themed halftime show went awry with formations that resembled a sex act against a University of Kansas Jayhawk mascot.
Here’s what happened: Band members on the north part of the field formed a Jayhawk. On the south side of the field, other members formed what was described as the Starship Enterprise heading toward the Jayhawk’s mouth, intent on destroying the mascot with photon torpedoes, futuristic weapons used in the science fiction show.
Tracz said the band meant no harm by the formation and that it contained nothing derogatory toward KU.
“It’s friendly rivalry banter, which happens all the time in sports,” Tracz explained. “Hundreds of bands do this on a yearly basis. They blow up their opposing team’s mascot.
“They put a big ‘M’ on a building and a tank blows it up. It happens all the time. We have gotten so sensitive over this.”
At one point, Tracz said he worried K-State would fire him, but he said school president Kirk Shulz and athletic director John Currie backed him immediately. Then he felt support from the community when a GoFundMe campaign raised more than $10,000 for the band to use on future scholarships.
Tracz was also reassured by his belief that K-State band members executed the formation correctly, and no one tried to adjust it as a prank. He said it was nice to see William Shatner – who portrayed Capt. James T. Kirk on “Star Trek” – support the band by tweeting “I think it’s time for the Big 12 Conference leaders to step down and get their eyes checked. What a travesty!”
“People were appalled by that, but that was the USS Enterprise. Captain Kirk said so. He should know,” Tracz said. “There was no malice intended. No students did anything on purpose to make it look like anything else. None of that happened.
“It was just part of a show to get the crowd riled up and get some applause. It was entertainment.”
Tracz added it is a shame future halftime shows will not reference the Jayhawks. He said he would welcome a playful response from the KU band during its next halftime performance.
The Big 12 viewed things differently and publicly reprimanded Tracz and K-State for violating the league’s sportsmanship rules.
K-State responded with self-imposed sanctions that included:
▪ A $5,000 fine to be paid to the Big 12 Conference for violating the league’s sportsmanship policy.
▪ Tracz’s suspension from K-State’s Nov. 28 game at KU.
▪ Approval of all formations and designs for future halftime shows by representatives from the school’s office of student life and athletic development.
Tracz said he accepted the fine, which K-State, not its band, will pay. He also does not mind missing the KU road game on Nov. 28. After receiving “nasty e-mails” from KU fans, he said he would avoid the trip.
“It is dangerous for me to go there,” he said.
He did, however, sound upset about needing approval on future halftime shows, which he said will no longer reference the Jayhawks. Next up is a stationary performance with high school bands across the state, followed by a Bruno Mars/Michael Jackson-themed show.
“This is my 23rd year at K-State, and I have been teaching for 38 years,” Tracz said. “I never had a problem with a halftime show or design except for this one.
“It’s not like our track record suggests we are going to do this often. We aren’t the Stanford band. This is the Kansas State band. We don’t have an issue.
“To be honest with you, it does bother me that I have to get what I have been doing for 40 years approved by someone who has no idea or concept on how to do this. I am asking for medical advice from someone who doesn’t know anything about medical advice.”
Tracz said he hopes K-State’s band can evolve and find new ways to honor the rivalry with KU.
“It’s a rivalry, for God’s sake,” Tracz said. “We play KU even when we are not playing KU.
“K-State has jokes about KU. KU has jokes about K-State. … It’s college rivalry. Every school has this at the major college level.”