GABS pep band serves as team behind the team for Purdue
Players aren't the only ones who enter NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament arenas sporting game faces. So do band members.
In the nervous minutes before its time to enter the arena, pep bands from opposing universities often encounter each other in the arena's interior passageways and hellos are exchanged. But that's as far as it goes.
In the arena, "it's a battle of the bands," says Carmen Nigh, a senior in Gold and Black Sound, the band that travels with the Purdue Boilermakers.
"You want to play louder, play better and play more interesting songs than the other band to get the crowd going."
Unlike many universities, Purdue boasts separate bands for men's and women's basketball and the success of the Boilermakers' women's program has heightened competition for band membership.
"We're extremely spirited, not rowdy to the point of being obnoxious but we are a very spirited group that really enjoys basketball, particularly women's basketball," says senior Katie Hileman from Avon Park, FL.
As the Boilermakers strive for a Final Four berth in New Orleans, Purdue's Gold and Black Sound pep band - affectionately known as GABS on the West Lafayette campus - knows they are the team behind the team.
"I feel the band has a huge responsibility. There's so many of us in one group we can get something started. It's so much fun to get the crowd pumped up," says Nigh.
Just like the scholarship players, Nigh and other band members warm up for the game with special exercises, then play hard for 40 minutes. Just like Purdue coach Kristy Curry, they actively show their displeasure at bad calls.
Over the years GABS has developed a distinct personality. Each member contributes a bit of themselves to the group's fun-loving image and its repertoire of colorful antics. One of GABS' favorite traditions is one most fans don't see - the pregame stretches which occur about 45 minutes before game time. They mimic the warm-up routine the team is doing on the court, and give members a chance to loosen up tense muscles while they focus on the serious task of providing a winning atmosphere.
During the game, they start cheers to keep the crowd into the game and good-naturedly taunt players who travel with a crazy chant, and mark the exit of fouled-out players with a chant of "Left, right, left, right, left ...sit down!"
"When someone fouls out and we do 'left, right,' that's the best," says Nigh. "And when we sing while the other team shoots free throws, songs like "Deep in the Heart of Texas" or the themes from The Brady Bunch and Jeopardy , or "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star."
"Something is always going on," says Hileman. "We pride ourselves on maintaining a high energy level in any arena we're in, and working with the cheerleaders to make sure the fans are as into the game as the team is."
Crazy hand movements and swaggering instruments dominate the tunes they play during time-outs, and the movements get wilder during tourney season. Cincinnati senior Katie Bauer was a freshman in GABS when Purdue went to the Final Four in 2001. She easily recalls the emotions that fueled the band during the St. Louis games. "You're definitely pumped up. The horn moves were all exaggerated, and we were playing loud. It was a definite adrenalin rush. You're not out there on the floor but you feel like part of the team."
Coach Kristy Curry and the team make a point of making the band feel like part of the family. This year, in honor of the team's New Orleans-bound theme, "Let the Good Times Roll," Curry gave them spirit towels emblazoned with the official theme which they wave wildly at games. In a 2004 TV commercial promoting the band, she publicly credits them with making Mackey an intimidating place to play and calls them "the best band in the land."
"The band is incredible and their support is amazing," Curry adds.
In return the band plays music the players want to hear. "We play a lot of music that students get into, newer upbeat stuff," says Anne Davis, a sophomore from Granger, IN. And we do a lot for team. Erica (Valek) and Beth (Jones) asked us to play 'Stomp' so we got a copy of that and we play it." Another tune on the 2003-04 hit list with the players is "Hey Ya!"
For the Purdue Boilermakers and GABS, the route to the Final Four in New Orleans starts in Ames, Iowa, and continues through Seattle, Washington. For the band, just like the players, it means missing a lot of classes and making up missed assignments.
Davis spent spring break getting ahead on homework because she doesn't see herself spending much time in West Lafayette during the next few weeks.
"I plan on being in New Orleans that's how I sum up my prediction," she says.
Hileman agrees. "Definitely we're going to be in New Orleans. I'm really excited. I can't wait to be exposed to all the different teams, bands and cities along the way."