Taking the field with Sun Devil Marching Band

The football players aren't the only ones working hard to make game day a great show

It's 104 degrees. The sun is beating down, and there's not a cloud in sight. A large group of ASU students are gathering on a Tempe field for their third practice of the week on a Friday afternoon. It's one of the last times they'll practice before Saturday's game.

But we're not talking about the ASU football team – this is the Sun Devil Marching Band.

As a Division I school, ASU is known for it's football, but those players aren't the only students who star in the game day show – the SDMB is responsible for a large part of the experience.

The SDMB, however, includes more than just the marching band. 

The colorguard, spirit squad and baton twirlers are included as well, bringing together approximately 350 ASU students who may not normally work together.

The SDMB was named one of the finest collegiate marching bands in the country, and received a variety of national recognition, including an invitation to perform at the Rose Bowl halftime performance and receiving the John Philip Sousa Foundation Sudler Trophy, the highest marching band award given at the collegiate level

Alysse Blight, a biology junior, and Rebecca Lantz, an economics sophomore, were both named in the top ten collegiate baton twirlers in the nation. 

Lantz was also named College Miss Majorette of America and won the Senior Grand Nationals in 2016.

Although they have both been twirling since they were toddlers and are both nationally ranked, the girls agreed that being a part of the Sun Devil Marching Band has been one of their best experiences in the field so far.

"I feel like describing it as amazing is so cliché," Lantz said. "But it really is."

The twirlers spin and flip batons in a lyrical dance. Clad in sequined maroon and gold outfits, the twirlers stand out from the rest of the band as individual performers, but they are still members of the sea of performers who make up the comprehensive marching band.

"Competitive twirlers typically don't get this environment," Blight said. "It's really fun to be a part of such a big team, even while competing in such an individual sport. I get chills every time I go out on the field."

The girls said they take a large amount of pride in being able to say that they are a part of one of the top marching bands in the country.

"This is why we twirl," Lantz said, gesturing to the band practicing behind her. "It's an amazing opportunity to compete with such a great team at such a big school."

Taking the field with Sun Devil Marching Band from The State Press on Vimeo.

Among the 350 students, many said they got involved with the SDMB as a way to branch out.

Maryl Harris, a biomedical engineering freshman and mellophone player, said that she joined the marching band to meet people. 

"I'm from Florida, so I didn't know anyone when I came to ASU," she said. "I joined the marching band to meet people, and it has been a lot of fun. The people here are great."

Harris reflected on her first Sun Devil football game this season, saying that it was very exciting and high-energy. 

The SDMB kicks off the show for each ASU football game, rallying the crowd before the night's game. The hundreds of students rush around the field using their own bodies to make formations, such as the letters "A-S-U" and a giant pitchfork that the players run through before kickoff.

However, most of these musicians swathed in maroon and gold uniforms didn't begin as seasoned professionals.

Chloe Warpinski, a global health senior and trombone player, said that her freshman year with the band was her first time marching.

"I was a drum major for two years in high school, but I had never actually marched," she said. "It's a very different experience playing in one spot versus playing while marching."

For two years in high school, Warpinski served as her school's drum major. But when it came to ASU, she would need to work her way up to that position. In the last few months of her senior year of high school, Warpinski picked up the trombone and fell in love.

She made it through the audition process for the SDMB, but didn't end up taking on the role of drum major. A senior this year, she still plays the trombone, but she said she wouldn't change a thing about her experience.

"It's by far the most dedicated group I've ever worked with," Warpinski said. "You have to have a certain level of self-loathing to drag yourself to practice in the heat as often as we do. I met some of my best friends in this band."

Interdisciplinary studies senior Brian Coon, a colorguard member, said that the marching band experience involves more than just football games – it's a year-long commitment. 

"Being a member of the Sun Devil Marching Band has been a really big experience," Coon said. "It's very powerful. You get to have a huge sense of ownership stepping out on that field as a member of one of the top ten marching bands in the country. We really are a part of the football experience, and that's big."

Coon said the marching band is a unique group because it brings together a lot of students who may have been more quiet and introverted, and brought them out of their shells.

"I remember performing with the band on the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan," he said. "It was the most high-profile performance I had ever been a part of, and it was a huge stage to take on. It was really nerve-wracking at first because we had to stand on this platform with no railing as it raised us up, and going down was worse. But once we got the feel for that, it gave us this great sense of pride and really brought us out as performers. It was amazing."

Correction: A previous version of the included video stated a source's name incorrectly. The correct name is Dale Ramirez.


Reach the reporter at aegeland@asu.edu or follow @alexisegeland on Twitter.

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