Pep boys (and girls)
Chico State’s pep band brings the big noise with little dough
Wearing a small red fedora and wielding a large, ornate brass instrument, Joe West, one of the Chico State pep band’s two sousaphone players, careened up and down the wooden bleachers at Acker Gym.
West played for Cal Berkeley’s marching band and came to Chico State this year as a music education graduate student.
I asked him, “What’s the biggest difference between Cal and Chico?” pleased with my hard-hitting question.
West paused as if trying to describe the difference between Big Chico Creek and the Pacific Ocean.
“Umm, it’s not as big, so I guess I could say it’s more intimate. Yeah, is more intimate OK?”
West kept the whole experience in perspective as he rattled off some pep insight before resuming his role as the band’s Pac-10 “hero.”
“We’re small, but we’re mighty.”
The Wildcats’ gym doesn’t have big-name athletes, luxury suites or high-profile sponsors, although Guy Rents will gladly pay $5,000 to anyone lucky enough to sink a three-quarter court shot.
The scene is more akin to a high school basketball game than the Final Four. Perched in the center row during most home games is a group of music majors who volunteer their time to bring spirit to a school known more for weekend revelry than athletic achievement.
Lindsay Vietti, the band’s manager, has made it her duty to bring the noise at Chico State home games, regardless of the opposition.
“The entire conference voted to move the band away from behind the visiting bench,” said Vietti, smiling as though it were a badge of honor. “Apparently we’re too loud.”
In fact, several members of the band are proud of the fact that they are “too loud.”
Royce Tevis heads the music department at Chico State and beamed like a doting father. As Vietti continued, he peppered the conversation with praise for his young leader. Tevis said the band has been progressively getting larger since the music department decided to revive the act several years ago.
Having a pep band can be a logistical nightmare for a school that doesn’t have a monetary commitment from the administration. Larger schools such as USC and Cal have big budgets and extensive fund-raising for their bands to cover uniforms, expenses for road games and hundreds of members.
Craig Thompson, a trombone player for USC’s marching band, said in a telephone interview that his school’s 270-member band travels to Notre Dame, Cal and Stanford with help from funds garnered from various fund-raising efforts. Contrast that with Chico’s band of 30 volunteer members who wear burgundy T-shirts donated by Team Sports. It’s no surprise, with Division I sports being a proverbial cash cow, that big schools have large, well-regulated bands.
“Division II sports are a tough nut to crack,” said Jeff Kragel, head of sports marketing for Chico State.
Kragel calls the signals at games, letting Vietti and her crew know when it can unleash its audio onslaught. The band is only allowed to play when the ball is not in motion, usually during timeouts and radio broadcast breaks.
He said he’s still optimistic about school spirit, but he knows Chico State is definitely no Duke University with its “Cameron Crazies” who jump through a 40-minute game, faces gleaming in blue paint. But as far as D-II schools go, Kragel said Chico is the most intimidating place to play.
“I would love for us to someday have a band that is well-regulated and paid, but that day is a long, long, long way away.”