PHOENIX – As the beat of the ASU marching band met the claps and chants of the 942 Crew, members of the spirit squad shook their pom poms and the color guard complemented the scene with props and dancing.
They brought an energy and electricity to Sun Devil Stadium that has been missing for over a year.
No one was happier to be at that recent Arizona State-Arizona women’s soccer game than members of the Sun Devil Marching Band. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, the group has not played together live since performing in Las Vegas in 2020. The performance at the soccer game was its first and last of the year.
“We were coming back from the Pac-12 women’s tournament a year ago in March and the COVID thing was just kind of starting,” Sun Devil Marching Band director James Hudson said. “Then, literally two days after we got home, everything shut down.”
Before the game, band members met outside of Desert Financial Arena to warm up and get back into the groove. As they prepared, they had to start a few of the songs over as they worked to find the proper rhythm and tone.
Hudson, giving instructions with a smile, said, “Been a long time, hasn’t it? But that’s OK. Let’s have some fun.”
The warm up before the game was the most the band has been able to do together in person this year. Marching band was taught virtually during the pandemic and was only able to meet three times this fall in limited groups.
Senior Jillian Wright, the section leader of the alto saxophone section, said exercising caution was a priority during the past year.
“We wanted to make sure that we were able to include as many people as possible without making anybody feel like they would be unsafe, or like their predisposed conditions would prevent them from being able to participate,” she said.
“So we’ve been doing a lot online. We’ve been doing a lot of just bonding and having the sections be able to meet each other through (digital platform) Discord, or through Zoom. And then, of course, trying our best to rehearse as much as we could. But obviously, it was really difficult.”
Hudson acknowledged, “We’re kind of flying blind tonight.”
The process of making the live performance a reality was a lengthy one. Hudson had to write up an action plan and present it to associate athletic director Bill Kennedy for approval. The plan included social distancing and bell covers, as well as special face masks that allowed students to play their instruments while still covering their mouths and noses.
Once the logistics were in place and the performance confirmed, minor details still needed to be addressed. Unlike a normal year, many members had never been to Sun Devil Stadium before that night’s performance.
“We were responsible for getting everyone here. So a lot of people haven’t even been in the stadium before. So that was a big undertaking,” first year drum major Shawn Schive said. “Making sure everyone’s on the same page as far as we’re playing, what equipment they have to bring, how they have to look. That was our responsibility tonight.”
The ASU women played their games at Sun Devil Stadium this season to help reduce wear on the new field at Sun Devil Soccer/Lacrosse Stadium. The Sun Devils, who made their first NCAA appearance since 2014, saw their season end Saturday in a loss to Duke.
As the Arizona game kicked off, the band got louder, the crowd got larger and the 942 Crew got rowdier. Smiles on the faces of attendees were everywhere as they embraced the experience of attending a live sporting event again.
“It just feels right,” Wright said. “It feels like something I’ve been missing for a really long time.”
The popular student organization 942 Crew was able to do a giveaway for the first time this year. Fans were given free yellow t-shirts to wear which matched the yellow shirts of the band and color guard. During the game, the band, color guard, spirit squad and Cody the Twirler all worked together to bring Sun Devil Stadium back to life.
“It just shows how together our student body is. We don’t try to separate based off of like what class we are or our specific involvement,” said Robert Silver, Committee Chair of In Game Experience for the 942 Crew. “We want everybody to come together. The ultimate goal is supporting our athletes.”
Cody Carter spent the entire game breakdancing to the band’s music, performing tricks, twirling his baton and interacting with the 942 Crew to add a visual aspect to the performance.
“I think we all really missed it. So just to be back in the stadium, back feeling the energy, I think it really helps,” Carter said. “I think that’s the coolest thing just to be able to hype up the crowd, hype up the players. It’s just super cool. I’m so glad to be back.”
“It’s like you never stopped so that was really cool,” Hudson told his band after the game. “I thought we got better as we went on, so good for you.”
Due to the pandemic, the band’s usual end of year banquet was canceled, so Hudson took the opportunity at the end of the game to give out awards.
Emotions ran high as the students clapped and cheered as their friends were honored and recognized for their hard work.
After the band had settled down and the instruments were put away, Hudson addressed the seniors.
“If you’re a senior and this was your last trip in your house, I’m sorry. I wish I could make that up to you but I just can’t,” Hudson said. “But you can always come back as an alum and tell everyone how much better it was when you were in.”
The marching band plans on making a full return for next school year. They will hold two practices in the summer and then start band camp on August 13, which will continue every weekend until the first home football game on Sept. 2 against Southern Utah.
“Be ready to go this fall, he said, “We are going to tear it up.”