Playing in the Syracuse University Marching Band in the early 1900s was an all-male activity.
to the Playing Field
Evolving from the Students’ Army Training Corps, the early SUMB entertained during campus and city parades, as well as at many home and away football games. In 1925, the band, then directed by Marvin A. Fairbanks, began its official partnership with the athletics department. The SUMB has since performed at all home football games and now accompanies the team for one road game a year and all bowl appearances.
When the band performed at Archbold Stadium, members marched across the Quad to the stadium at the start of each game. Today, the band still holds pregame concerts followed by the march to the Dome. Marc Perlowitz ’87 recalls that when he was in
the band, the longstanding tradition of running onto the field before the pregame show was briefly abandoned. Ethington has since brought it back. “There are so many little things that are part of the band’s history,” Perlowitz says. “Someone on the sidelines probably would never notice, but those little things mean something to band members.”
Over the years, the band tried a variety of novel ideas to enhance its performances, including a short-lived experiment that put members on horseback. In 1947, the first baton-twirling “Orange Girl” joined the SUMB, her performance choreographed to the band’s music. Dorothy “Dottie” Grover ’53 achieved renown usually enjoyed only by the football players. She capped off her appearance with the band—then known as “One Hundred Men and a Girl”—at SU’s first-ever Orange Bowl game in 1953. The band went to the bowl sporting new uniforms, donated by Learbury Clothier of Syracuse. Richard Picolla ’56, G’60, a freshman trumpet player at the time, fondly recalls the white straw hats that topped the band’s navy blue blazers and slacks. But he also remembers the hats as a source of aggravation. “People used to try to steal them all the time,” he says. The hats took their proverbial bow at the final game of the 1956 season, against Colgate. Band members planned to toss the hats into the stands at game’s end, but the choreography had them facing the Colgate section at the crucial moment. “We ended up throwing oranges at the Colgate fans,” Picolla says. “Then we turned around and threw the hats to the Syracuse fans.”
SUMB director Bradley Ethington and his family enjoy a performance.
Among the most memorable events in SUMB history was the opening of the Carrier Dome. Gone were the days of marching outside in the raw, late fall weather of Syracuse. “One of my fondest memories is opening night at the Carrier Dome in 1980,” says Deb Lombard ’81. “It had to be 100 degrees-plus on the field that night, and we were in those wool uniforms, but we knew we were making history. It was absolutely thrilling to march onto that field for the first time.”
Robert Spradling, SU director of bands from 1980 to 1993, says the opening of the Dome was a major turning point in how the band put together its shows. “That was a time of change,” he says. “The University was reviewing the band’s role and there was a renewed interest in the football team. There were certain challenges in putting together a show for a crowd that large—even in just adjusting to the volume in there.”
Spradling, now director of bands at Western Michigan University, says the band was especially grateful for head football coach Dick MacPherson’s support during those early years in the Dome. The band also appreciated that, under MacPherson’s leadership, it became commonplace for the football team to earn a bowl bid. When the team goes, so does “The Pride.”
Despite some lean years, overall band membership grew steadily, from 60 members in 1925 to more than 200 last year. Ethington, who expects to direct about 240 members this fall, isn’t surprised by the interest. “It is still one of the few non-athletic campus activities, if not the only one, that is truly a team effort,” says Ethington. “Decades later, students look upon it as one of their most memorable college experiences.”
Kathleen Sacks ’85 vividly remembers Saturday morning rehearsals on game days. “Who else on campus was up at 8 a.m.?” she says. “But there was always something special going on to make it fun. Sometimes we showed up in our pajamas. Near Halloween, we dressed up in costumes. The ‘bandies’ were always up to something.”
Perlowitz says memories of his days in the SUMB are what keep him active as an alumnus. “During my first year in the band, the football team beat the Nebraska Cornhuskers, who were ranked number one. It was one of the biggest upsets of the year. I remember walking back to my dorm after the game in my band uniform. Students would come up to me and start talking about the game. We all shared in the excitement of that moment. Those experiences stay with you.”"
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