Come tournament time, there’s a team in bright gold polo shirts in the stands that’s every bit as vital to the success of Purdue Women’s Basketball as the team in numbered jerseys on floor.
Just like the scholarship players, they warm up for the game with special exercises, then play hard for 40 minutes. Just like Coach Kristy Curry, they actively show their displeasure at bad calls. But in the spirit category, Gold and Black Sound Basketball Band is unlike anyone else.
Always loud, sometimes (by their own admission) obnoxious, and fun-loving to the end, the 56 loyal musicians who make up the band dubbed GABS regularly push the spirit meter over the top in Mackey Arena and every other gym they play in.
"In order to be a member of GABS you have to be willing to sacrifice a little blood, sweat, and even dignity. We try to create an atmosphere that makes Mackey the toughest place to play in the Big 10," says Steve Pappas, a fifth year senior who’s shaved head, game antics and enthusiasm cause fans to notice him.
Pappas and others turn their backs when Purdue’s opponents shoot free throws if they disagree with the call. They taunt players who travel with a crazy chant, and traditionally mark the exit of fouled-out players - much to the delight of the crowd - with "Left, right, left, right-..sit down!"
Wild hand movements and swaggering instruments dominate many a song, and dancing has highlighted the 2000-01 season. Drummer Greg Butler’s gyrations to a tune called "The Horse" are so popular he’s asked for autographs.
"Greg is really hilarious. Fans that sit next to us love when he dances, and they cheer every time we play that song," says sophomore Kristina Murray.
GABS has moved the players, and even Kristy Curry’s baby daughter to dance. While the band played "Jahari Dance," point guard Erika Valek led the players in a funky dance at center court after winning the Big 10 Championship.
In the stands, six-month-old baby Kelsey Curry continually does her thing. "She loves the band. She kicks and bounces around when the band plays," reports Kelsy’s nanny Michele Hayden.
One of GABS’ favorite traditions is one most fans don’t see - pregame warm-ups. "We like to think of ourselves as a very emotional band. We don’t want to pull anything or injure ourselves in any way so, not unlike the team, we make sure we stretch before every game," says senior trumpeter Jason Singer who leads the exercises. "This tradition was started many years ago, and gets passed on each year."
GABS graduate student director, Alan Landers, says there’s a night and day difference between women’s basketball at Purdue and at it’s arch rival I.U. where Landers studied music. "At I.U., the atmosphere is not there. No one goes. No one wants to play in the band," he says. Purdue’s GABS band "took me a little bit by surprise - how into the game they are, and how integral they are to the game. The coolest thing I’ve ever seen is 12,000 people standing up and clapping along with the band when they played ‘Get Ready To Rumble’ at Senior Day," he says.
Over the years GABS has developed a distinct personality.
"I think our band is particularly loud and obnoxious, but not in a bad way," says senior trombone player Jolene Miller. "We particularly like drawing attention to ourselves by yelling at refs and opposing players when there isn’t a whole lot of other noise in the arena. When we have the other team’s fans yelling back at us, we know we’ve done our job."
Every member contributes a bit of themselves to the GABS personality. "When you are a new member coming into GABS, you really don’t know what to expect. After you’ve been to the first game, you get swept up in the excitement and your own personality comes out and contributes more fun to the band," says Murray, a first year member and tuba player.
"I like to do very exaggerated horn moves, and each game I try to think of new ones, to go with new songs. I would like to think that people (watching me) are thinking, "Wow, she is excited!" she adds.
Tournament time traditionally inspires GABS to new heights. For the 2000 Big 10 Tournament they introduced referee sock puppets inspired by the Pets.com mascot.
This year they’re working up some hip-hop songs requested by the team, and there’ll probably be other surprises.
Curry, and all the coaches before her, like having GABS on their side. "Coach Curry has talked to us, thanking us for all of our hard work, and everything we do to support the team. It feels good and make us want to go out there and cheer harder at the next game," says Pappas.
GABS members’ have a particular affinity for women’s basketball. "I picked the women’s basketball team because the fans aren’t fickle. They’re here to stay," says baritone player Amanda Cox. "We have a sense of family with the team."
Favorite memories for Cox, and all the seniors, lie in the national championship season of 1998-99. It was that year they dared to form a Block P on the I.U. Arena floor after a victory there, and that year they traveled to the Final Four at San Jose
"Going into the tournament, the entire band felt that we were on the verge of witnessing something special, something we would never forget. Being able to be a part of the success our team had that season, and in the tournament was truly amazing," says Pappas. There was the "feeling that we had won the national championship too," adds Cox.
Starting a new tournament road in Grand Rapid. Mich., on March 2-4, that will continue on to the NCAA’s, horn player Michael Diaz sums up the band’s thoughts:
"It would be nice if we could bring home another Big 10 Tourney title, and while we’re at it, another NCAA championship. It’s been two years. I think we’re due."