ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Even the most exciting basketball games have breaks in the action.
But Tabor College is one of the fortunate schools in the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference that has a resource to ensure the home crowd doesn’t lose the enthusiasm that invigorates the Bluejay teams when those breaks occur.
One outstanding pep band.
Under the guidance of director Richard Cantwell, the Bluejay ensemble is one of the most talented in small college athletics.
“When the crowd gets into our music, it’s just a really great feeling,” said Tamara McCarren, who was acting director of the band while Cantwell was off campus during January.
“We have some band supporters who always get us going and we just love to have fun. That’s what it’s all about.”
The pep band didn’t miss a beat under McCarren’s leadership. The sound was just as lively and crisp.
“I’ve directed on and off throughout college, but I got delegated this time because I’m a senior,” said McCarren, who is in her fifth year at Tabor. “I’ve been in the pep band all five years I’ve been in school here.”
While the January interterm reduces the size of the band, McCarren said an average of 30 students and alumni gather in Tabor Gymnasium for home basketball games-and at Reimer Field during the football season-to boost the morale of the players, fans and coaches.
“Without the pep band, I think it’s harder for the teams to feel the overall support,” McCarren said. “When the band is there, you have a group of people who are there with the sole purpose of supporting the team. I think that gets more people involved in the game.
“It’s just an amazing opportunity to support others who support you.”
Although comprised mainly of college students, the band include a sprinkling of alumni. Among those are Paul Epp and Steve Hanneman of Hillsboro.
“I’m a Tabor alum and I’ve played probably all my life-either while teaching or after that,” said Epp, who is on the maintenance crew at Parkside Homes. “I play because it’s a chance to play and because the kids all like to make fun of us old guys.”
A Hillsboro High School music teacher for six years, Epp said the student ribbing is done in good taste.
“Rich (Cantwell) is always saying how the ‘old guys’ are here and the kids picked up on that,” he said. “But they’ve always been very accepting of us and desirous of us being here.”
McCarren said the band just isn’t the same without these “old guys.”
“Steve and Paul are really awesome,” she said. “They’re excellent musicians and they’re both trumpet players for the Messiah. They really help the pep band a lot.”
Some students are on scholarship and members of the concert band are automatically included in the pep band roster, but others are allowed to participate.
“They usually have auditions and that gives Richard an idea of who’s going to be in his band, how much work he’s going to have to do, and it also gives him an idea of what music we’ll be able to perform,” McCarren said.
“Rich picks the music and does a great job of challenging us. We play a lot of songs that are probably above our level, but he really brings out the best of our musical talents.”
While none of the participants are actually paid for their contributions, McCarren said they do receive benefits.
“We get into games free anyway, but if it’s a tournament and we play, we still get in for free, so that’s nice,” she said. “Some get credit for playing and Rich always buys us a drink at the snack bar after we’re done. So that makes it fun, too.”
Rehearsal time is limited to band practice.
“We work on songs during band practice when we need to,” McCarren said. “But it’s rough-it pulls you away from your studies and it’s a sacrifice.”
After Cantwell initially picks what songs will comprise the group’s play list, selections are decided during the game.
“Every now and then we get a request from the crowd,” McCarren said. “One of the absolute favorites is ‘Hey, Baby.’ They really enjoy that.
“Another favorite, although we haven’t played it yet this year, is ‘Wabash Cannonball,'” she added. “One of our new ones people really like is ‘Jive Talking.’ It’s a lot of fun to play.”
Although the purpose of the band is to boost the morale and spirits of those present, it all must be accomplished within the guidelines of the administration.
“There are a few songs that we don’t play, like ‘Tequila’ or something like that,” McCarren said. “We do a good job of keeping it clean.”
McCarren said band members are continually being asked if they’ll be playing on a certain date.
“A lot of the players ask us if we’re going to be playing or not,” she said. “That makes us really feel like they appreciate what we do.”
Epp agreed, saying response has been positive, for the most part.
“We hear comments that people like what we do and hope we keep playing,” he said. “I’ve heard from a couple of people who they think we’re too loud, but those are the ones that just go to the game to socialize and gab and not watch the ball game.
“We always get comments like, ‘Why aren’t you playing,’ and, ‘We miss the pep band when you don’t play.'”
Playing time is limited to the second half of the Bluejay women’s game, between games and then the first half of the Bluejay men’s game.
“The purpose of the band is to support those who are playing ball,” McCarren said. “It’s just another way to show the Tabor teams we’re behind them, we’re going to come out and support them and we’re going to make some noise for them.”
Epp said it’s not a job, it’s an opportunity.
“We do it to have fun,” Epp said. “It’s a way to practice without practicing.”
People don’t notice good things until they’re gone, but it’s readily apparent when the Tabor College pep band is absent.
“I think the Tabor pep band adds so much dynamics to our home games,” McCarren said. “Without it, it’s kind of quiet.
“There’s just a spirit about pep band and getting the student section going a little bit,” she added. “Being a part of it is simply a lot of fun.”