Rain or shine, hundreds of students from junior high and high schools from across the state will proclaim ``I'm a Jayhawk'' during half-time of Saturday's KU football game.
A few hours before this Saturday's 6:30 p.m. kickoff in the Kansas University/Illinois State University game, Bob Foster and Tom Stidham will be in the pressbox at Memorial Stadium, commanding hundreds of players and putting the finishing touches on formations.
Foster and Stidham aren't offensive or defensive coaches, and the players aren't tight ends or linemen, but their direction will help pull off a successful game on Saturday.
As director and associate director of bands at KU, Foster and Stidham have presided over Band Day for more than two decades. With the arrival of permanent lighting in the stadium last year, Band Day has transformed into Band Night this year. Although ``Band Night'' doesn't roll off the tongue as readily, Stidham said it will be business as usual ... just 5 1/2 hours later.
About 5,600 junior high and high school students from 85 districts in Kansas and Missouri will be rushing onto the field during half-time to play five songs, a logistical nightmare considering they have about two hours to practice together for the first time.
Somehow, it works.
``Most of the time they sound pretty good, but it's pretty scary,'' said Stidham, who will conduct two of the songs.
``You have to have a lot of faith to stand up there, hold your hands up and blow on a whistle -- tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet -- and hope they'll all come in at the same time,'' he said. ``With that many people spread out over 100 yards, and that last band being 60 yards away from where I'm standing ... I'm supposed to set the tempo, and it can be pretty catastrophic if they're not all together.''
Each March, every high school across the state, and those within a 60-mile radius of Kansas City, get a note card in the mail to notify them of the date. This year, athletic department scheduling switched the date from Sept. 5 to Sept. 19 after the cards were sent, and another wave went out in the mail correcting the change.
Planning snafus like this can sideline such a large event, but Stidham credits band department secretary Cindy Koester with keeping dozens of high school band directors notified about changes and scheduling, from where to park buses to where to line up for the 1:30 p.m. parade on Saturday.
Stidham spent the past week poring over a piece of grid paper, each tiny square representing 45 inches on the football field. Schools are placed on the grid in rectangles according to the number of participants, from 29 band
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members from Erie High School to 206 from Mulvane High School. Lawrence High School used to command the largest presence during the half-time show, but the addition of Free State High School changed that. This year, Free State will be in the parade but not the half-time show, because the school's homecoming dance is Saturday night.
High school band directors receive the five music selections during the summer, and it's safe to assume hundreds of band members have been playing ``I'm a Jayhawk,'' ``Military Escort,'' ``Circle of Life'' (from ``The Lion King''), ``Y.M.C.A.'' and ``Battle Hymn of the Republic'' since school started.
The selections are chosen to entertain but must be technically easy for new band members. The bands supply their own sheet music for all of the songs except, ``I'm a Jayhawk.'' The KU band department mails sheet music for the song, which is the toughest to perform.
``We want to indoctrinate the kids a little by playing a good KU tune,'' said Stidham, who can't recall any conscientious objectors refusing to do the song.
No matter how much planning Stidham puts into band night, he has no control over the one thing that can greatly affect the quality of the music -- the weather. Weather forecasts for Saturday call for a high in the mid-80s, but the temperatures are likely to cool down during the night game. Past Band Days are memorable for the sweltering heat, causing band members to vomit or pass out on the field, sweating profusely in their heavy uniforms.
``I remember one Band Day, 10 to 15 years ago. There were literally hundreds of kids passing out on the field, and the poor medics and ambulance folks were run ragged,'' Stidham said. ``Back in that time, almost every band wore their big, heavy wool uniforms.''
The following year, Stidham sent a weather advisory to the schools: dress appropriately. The information packets also now contain information on how to avoid heat stress.
Band Day began 51 years ago, when then-director Russell Wiley used it as a recruitment tool. From what Stidham has seen, it's evident that some high school students mean it when they play ``I'm a Jayhawk.'' Many current and former KU band students have attended Band Day or the university's summer Midwestern Band Camp.
``They're at a very impressionable age, and if it's a fun game, with all the excitement, they may be interested in KU,'' Stidham said. ``I'm a real small-town kid myself, so I think something like this would be exciting.''
Stidham expects a restless night of sleep Friday -- no amount of preparation will keep the possibility of a forgotten task from haunting him -- but he knows it's in the hands of the hundreds of trumpet, flute, trombone, saxophone players and other musicians who will take the field Saturday. That is, all except the drummers, who will play during the parade, but not the half-time show.
``We don't allow drummers out there. We ask them not to even bring their instruments on the field,'' Stidham said. ``You can't fight 85 different percussion sections on the field, and most drummers just can't resist hitting the drum if they have it.''
-- Chris Koger's phone message number is 832-7126. His e-mail address is email@example.com.