The sidelines aren’t just for benchwarmers: The pep behind UK athletics

Kendall Staton

Responsible for keeping crowds engaged through close calls and all-around blowouts, the UK pep band has seen its fair share of UK sports history. While it may not always be the main attraction, the band provides entertainment and excitement wherever it plays.

A separate group from the marching band, UK’s pep band plays at home games for the mens basketball team, as well as for womens basketball, volleyball and gymnastics teams. While UK may not always win these events, it is the pep band’s job to keep the crowd excited and engaged through wins and loses.

UK’s director of athletic bands, Shayna Stahl, said one of her favorite things about working with the pep band is the players’ high level of dedication.

Walking through the halls of the UK fine arts building, visitors will be hard pressed to find a quiet corner. With trumpets, drums and flutes around every corner, UK’s arts students are very invested in their craft. With pep band members scattered throughout the hallways, Stahl is always within 100 feet of her players.

“They are probably the most passionate people about what they’re doing because they love music so much,” Stahl said. “I think they are probably one of the most passionate groups of students on campus.”

A passion for music is not the only thing you need to be a member of the pep band. With a hefty schedule of games to attend, pep band members maintain a very busy schedule.

Though the band is split into two different groups for scheduling purposes, members were still required to play for at least nine games in the spring 2022 semester. With each game being at least a three-hour commitment, schedules can fill up pretty fast.

Junior trumpet player Nate Stombaugh was happy to give his extra time to the band. Playing for 14 games this semester, Stombaugh said his favorite part of the band is simply the fun he gets to have.

“I love sports, and I love screaming at sports, so the pep band allows me to do that while making music, which is pretty much my favorite thing in the world to do,” he said. “I love playing pep band music because it’s a lot of rock and pop tunes that often translate to really fun trumpet parts.”

With tunes such as Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” and Dua Lipa’s “Levitating,” the pep band plays songs for everyone.

As Stombaugh looks forward to his senior year at UK, he is disappointed by the way COVID has affected his pep band experience. Due to the pandemic, he was only offered the chance to attend the NCAA basketball tournament one time, rather than the typical three.

Other pep band members felt the effects of the COVID pandemic as well. Piccolo section leader, Jenna Boulden, expects to graduate in 2022. Looking back on her time in pep band, her only regret is that COVID took away her time in her favorite place with her favorite people.

“Without a doubt, the people I get to experience pep band with are what keeps bringing me back year after year,” she said. “Band provides a time we get to spend together often while doing something that brings us all joy.”

Since pep band is a smaller and less formal group than some of the others on campus, such as concert band, Stahl appreciates that she is able to see more of her students’ personalities during these classes. With a main emphasis on fun, loud, exciting music, she feels the kids are able to be more enthusiastic than when they are in other bands.

Percussionist Jacob Davidson said he feels like the pep band puts a little less pressure on them compared to other ensembles in which he takes part. Since the emphasis of the pep band is on creating a fun environment, he doesn’t have to be as stressed out if he slips up and misses one note.

With a loud band comes an even louder crowd. Davidson said he feels supported by the audiences, specifically during mens basketball games.

“I’d say the band is a big part of the fun of being at Rupp Arena, and I think people enjoy us being there. Even when we aren’t playing, we tend to get pretty loud,” he said.

While Davidson is confident in the support the band receives from spectators, he is left wondering about the support from coaches and players.

“I don’t really know if the teams or coaches appreciate us because I’ve never spoken to any of them, but I would hope that they appreciate the time and effort we put into showing up and making every game a fun environment,” he said.

Some pep band members feel they receive an immense amount of support from those they cheer on, while others feel they are pushed to the back burner.

Boulden recalls the time UK’s head volleyball coach, Craig Skinner, gave the pep band popsicles at the end of a particularly hot rehearsal. This support, in addition to the times Skinner has attended band rehearsals, made Boulden feel like the pep band receives at least some support from athletic teams.

“We are so fortunate to have the support of some of the athletes and coaches on campus,” Boulden said. “Coach Skinner goes out of his way to let the band know how much he and his team appreciate us. He has come to rehearsals on several occasions and accommodates us in any way he can at the games.”

While Stombaugh doesn’t deny that pep band receives some support from the university and athletics department, he does feel as though there is a disconnect between the amount of work the band puts in and the amount of recognition they receive in return.

Not wanting to seem ungrateful, Stombaugh said he feels the separation between pep band and sports teams in the eyes of the university makes sense, but is still disheartening.

“We can’t really complain too much.The athletics department definitely recognises the value of the band, but oftentimes it does feel like we get the short end of the stick,” he said. “There are definitely some moments where it feels like we are just there on the sideline and aren’t really getting to participate in everything as much as we should.”

Regardless of support, or lack thereof, from the UK administration, the pep band has a fan in their director. Stahl shared her pleasure with the band’s progress and their ability to liven up a room. Through weekly practices and countless game days, Stahl is grateful to be a part of everyone’s game day excitement.

“Ultimately, as an organization, the best part is just being able to be a part of the game day experience and knowing that what we play really does make a difference in what’s going on,” she said. “It’s just being able to be a part of something bigger.”