Emily Smith is a UD alum who will be playing in a pep band for the women's team during the NCAA tournament.

At the NCAA basketball tournament, the University of Delaware pep bands will have alumni

The University of Delaware is sending its men’s and women’s basketball teams to NCAA tournaments in the same season for the first time in the school’s history. And thanks to alumni dusting off some old sheet music, both basketball teams will travel to Big Dance games accompanied by full pep bands – averting what could have been a real silent disaster.

“Imagine not having a band there but the opposing team’s band is there? Not cool, ”said University of Delaware music professor and director of athletic bands Heidi Sarver. “Or having a smaller one that can’t compete with the sound coming across this court out? It plays on an athlete’s psyche. ”

Sometimes called the “sixth man” of teams, pep bands play a key role in hyping players. The presence of these 29member bands can be a real morale booster during away games, said Sarver. With a repertoire that includes classic rock, pop tunes, and school songs, the band also keeps crowds engaged.

Sarver said she typically has 90 musicians to fill her pep bands and in theory, sending a band with each basketball team for NCAA tourneys shouldn’t be a problem. But as luck would have it, the university has wind ensemble, orchestra, and jazz concerts coinciding with the first NCAA games and much of the pep band’s roster is already committed to those performances.

In a professional setting, a musician can call a union if they need a backup performer, said Sarver. University students can’t.

To send two full pep bands, Sarver and her colleagues sent out an SOS to pep band alumni who would know the music for trombone, clarinets, flutes, and other instruments. Sarver said she expected about 20 responses to the online form; she got three times that.

“Of course a bunch of alumni jumped at the opportunity to get one more game in and kind of relive the glory days,” said trombone player Emily Smith, 28, who was involved in the pep band for undergraduate and graduate school. “The opportunity to do it again sounded too much fun to turn down.”

Smith is making the trip from New Jersey for the Maryland game. Roughly another 20 alumni musicians, many of them music educators, are similarly traveling from neighboring states, according to Sarver. Volunteer musicians were chosen based on their familiarity with the pep band repertoire, as there won’t be a rehearsal before Friday’s games.

Finalizing the band rosters took place Sunday night after the women’s team beat Drexel University in a 63-59 game, clinching their third Colonial Athletic Association title – their first since 2013.

Of course, the paths through NCAA tournaments is anything but easy. On Friday, the Delaware women’s team will be facing Maryland in College Park, Md., And the men’s team will face Villanova in Pittsburgh.

The women’s team has faced Maryland 14 times in the program’s history and the Hens have lost each time, according to UD Athletics. The men’s team has similarly lost to Villanova each of the 14 times they’ve faced off.

Still, pep band volunteers remain optimistic their teams can end on a high note.

“There have been so many times that I was a member of the pep band where we were able to squeak out that win because you just feel so much love and energy coming from the band sitting right in the sideline behind the net,” said trumpet player Derek Dillman, 25, who currently lives in Maryland and will be joining the band there. “It’s our job to make sure that our team doesn’t give up on themselves even when things seem bleak.”


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