When the University of Nebraska at Omaha dropped football in March as part of a step up to NCAA Division I athletics, some members of the Marching Mavericks band worried their program might be history, too. They were no longer needed to play at halftime during games.
Instead, the marching band has not only played on, it has embraced a new identity this fall — and found a new audience.
Band members say the loss of football hasn't been the bummer they expected. They still play the UNO fight song wherever they go. And while halftime performances were a blast, they've been too busy to miss them much.
"There's something about football games that was a lot of fun," said drum major Courtney Baker, a senior from Omaha. "But the marching band is it's own thing, and it doesn't have to be associated with football."
The 86 members of the Marching Mavericks spent this fall tooting their horns and banging their drums far from Caniglia Field. They've played high school games in the suburbs and a small-town jamboree in Clarinda, Iowa. Tonight in Lincoln is the season's final public performance at the Nebraska State Bandmasters Association's 29th annual Marching Band Contest.
"This change has definitely worked to our benefit," said UNO marching band director Courtney Snyder. "We're so much more out in the community than we ever were before."
UNO's band used to confine most of its fall performances to Maverick football games. The band still finds its way to the gridiron. It played at Thomas Jefferson High School in Council Bluffs, Skutt Catholic High School in Omaha and Millard South High. Members also performed at several festivals and competitions.
Having the UNO band perform was wonderful, said Randy Walters, who was chairman of the Southwest Iowa Band Jamboree this month. "Everybody loved it. It was exciting to have a college marching band here."
The Marching Mavericks draw students from all academic disciplines on campus. All band members receive partial scholarships from the university. The amount varies but usually is more than a couple hundred dollars.
Some members of the band have also added hockey to their repertoire. A live pep band plays this year at UNO hockey games.
Until this fall, the athletic department had not had a band at the games at the CenturyLink Center Omaha arena.
Tyler Goudlock has moved on from Maverick football. The drum major, like Baker, conducts the band and helps out Snyder.
"Honestly, our football crowd was pretty lame," said Tyler Goudlock, a first-year graduate student from Omaha who attended UNO as an undergrad. "This is the most enjoyable year I've had out of the four years I played."
Thanks to football's departure, the band cut back its early morning 90-minute practices to three times a week from five.
More students can now join the marching band because it's less of a time crunch, Goudlock said. "Since we don't practice five days a week anymore, morale is better," he said.
The best part is being out in the community more and talking to high school students interested in band.
"We're looking at ourselves as more of recruiters now," Goudlock said. "We want those kids in our program, so they see they'd have just as much fun here as they would if they went to" the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
For her part, Snyder, the band director, is confident that things will only get better.
Her goal: a 100-member marching band in the near future.
"You know, by purely existing, we were happy," she said. "But the response has been so huge that we're extra proud now."
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