Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving this year was spent in Westport, Connecticut at my aunt and uncle’s new house. The house was only completed a couple months before last year’s Thanksgiving, so that was the “breaking-the-house-in” Thanksgiving so to speak. This year’s holiday has been much more relaxed in comparison to last years, considering the house has been lived in for more than just a few months. With family and friends gathered around the dining room table, (piled high with the traditional recipes – such as turkey, stuffing and ratatouille) it is nice to be spending a calmer Thanksgiving with those closest to me. It’s always a rare occasion to get everyone together for the holidays, and the fact that we hail from Pennsylvania, Washington D.C., Maryland, Connecticut and Virginia doesn’t make it any easier. But this year, all but one of the cousins (who happened to be off in China traveling, lucky guy) is accounted for.

After plenty of hordervers, a heaping plate of food, some homemade pumpkin pie, a couple of home videos, two or three friendly games of billiards, and the chance to meet some new friends of the family, it was off to bed. It’s true what they say, turkey and good conversation really do make you sleepy. Even day-old turkey is having the same effect on me as I lounge on one of the couches, yawning intermittently as I type away at this piece. But last night, as I lay in my makeshift bed, I couldn’t help but think of all the things that I should be thankful for.

There are a couple different categories of things that I think we should all be thankful for in life. The basics are, of course, the health (mental, physical and emotional) of ourselves and our family, and the happiness we all share together. I think the friends and family that we have are extremely important as well, whether they are surrounding us at the dinner table or are thousands of miles away. And lastly, the physical possessions that we have either earned or that have been given to us.

Along with these ideas, most of which are fairly basic and which cross my mind frequently, there are other more individualistic things that I am happy for as well. Often when I think of the past, I think about where I am today and the journey I’ve taken to get here. From starting my schooling career in Pennsylvania in 3rd grade to now being close to done with my 3rd semester of college, a lot of time has passed from then until now, time that has been filled with memories and adventures from elementary school to well through high school.

Along this line, I am very thankful for where I am today. I’m thankful for the college I am a part of every single day, even when I’m not in class or even on campus. I’m thankful for the knowledge I have learned at school, which has helped me get to where I am today. Being a hospitality major, people think that all we learn how to do is hold doors. But in reality, the knowledge I have gained from these classes has helped me succeed in my field of work as well as in my everyday interactions with new people and working on projects. With the future being a common topic around the Thanksgiving dinner table, I’m glad I have a plan in the works for mine.

Plans sometimes don’t always work out though. We often forget that the unexpected is always lurking around the corner, easily able to turn a seemingly flawless plan into a disaster. But those failed plans can always become equally fun memories, another thing to be thankful for. The experiences behind these memories are something I always hold close to my heart. Over the summer, I discovered a quote from the famous author/composer who goes by the name “anonymous,” that said, “In a world where all is, in the end, ash, the only real moments of glory we have are in the moments of experience.” When you think about the world we live in this way, I think it really rings true to the fact that our lives are what we make of them. We are not defined by the things we own, but by what we do with those things.

Life is precious, it really is. Each day that we have on earth is a gift, and it’s our job to accept that gift and make the most out of it. Thanksgiving is a very special idea, a holiday that gives us a set date and an excuse to think about the things we are thankful for. But in reality, every day should be treated this way.

Only a few minutes before I began writing this article, at the top of my Facebook page was a post from an old friend about the unexpected passing of his grandmother. I knew his grandma well. She was a substitute teacher at my high school for a long time. She was strict to those she wasn’t familiar with, but once she got to know you, she was a very kind hearted and sweet lady. I can only imagine that the life of a substitute teacher must be an interesting one. A different class every day. A new adventure every morning.

This is exactly how she lived her life though, like it was a new adventure every morning. Each day was a new page in the book of life for her, and she was very thankful for every one of those days. At the end of the Facebook post, my friend wrote, “To everyone else who reads this, do yourself a favor and live each day like it’s your last because there’s no real way of knowing when that day will come.”

That day could be today. That day could be tomorrow.That’s the excitement of life; you never know what it may bring. Sometimes the thought scares me, but other times it energizes me. We are only guaranteed the present, the future is merely a thought in our minds. If today was your last day on earth, would you be happy with what you had accomplished in life thus far? Or would you be filled with regret, wishing you had said yes to some things you had said no to?

So, to everyone who reads this, do yourself a favor and live each day like it’s your last, because there is no real way of knowing when that day will come. Be thankful for today and every day for what you have. Life is a gift, accept it and reap the benefits of every single day.


Game day with the Blue Band: Part Two – Follow the Band Wagon

In a continuation from my previous article, I will pick up where I left off, with the entrance into Beaver Stadium.

Upon entering Beaver Stadium through the tunnel, we finish our drum cadence and set ourselves up in the stands designated for the Blue Band. Then, it’s back into the tunnel to retrieve our pregame drums. As a bass drummer, there are different rituals we go through before either halftime or pregame. For pregame, we retrieve our blue pregame drums and march back out of the tunnel in single file. A hype circle is formed by the seven of us. We stretch, debrief, and then get ourselves pumped up. If you ever watch the entire ritual from the stands, I’m sure it looks rather silly. But actually being in the huddle with your “teammates,” screaming and cheering each other on, there isn’t anything in the world quite like it.

Pregame lasts all of about 10 minutes, give or take a few depending on if there is anything special going on that day, such as the Parade of Champions or if we are saluting the other team with their Alma Mater. Then, it’s back to put our drums away, and up into the stands for the rest of the first half.

The fight songs we play in the stands are pretty standard–Hey Baby, Seven Nation Army, and so on. We do try to mix things up, add a few new songs each week – some more popular songs like Poker Face by Lady Gaga or Look Down from the musical Les Miserables. The point is to please the student section and get them singing along with us and cheering as loud as they can for the team, and we aim to do just that with the stands tunes.

Halftime is something that changes each week for us. Sometimes we have as little as 7 days to prepare a new show. Sometimes we get lucky with a bye week in-between performances though. This allows for us to be a little more relaxed and work on cleaning up the show. The shows consist of 3 songs normally, with the middle piece being in place, without drill. The shows almost always have a theme as well. Sometimes, depending on events in history or on popular trends, we may try to revolve a show around that with music and drill that all works together.

The wind instruments in the band have the sheet music with them during the shows, but the drumline, silks, and majorettes all have their shows completely memorized. Because of this, many times a week we have extra practices to prepare for this. Personally, the drumline puts in about 16 hours before game day. If you ever hear the drumline playing into the late hours of the night, you know they are only trying to put together the best show for their fans, not trying to annoy students while they study or relax in their rooms near the Blue Band building.

We then spend the rest of the game in the stands playing more stands tunes and cheering on the football team. Ever since Coach O’Brien became our head coach, the joint singing of the Alma Mater has become a tradition after the game ends, no matter the outcome. This coming together of the students, the athletes, the band, and the rest of the community is something very special that I think should be carried on long after O’Brien retires.

From the stands, the band returns onto the field to play through a few more songs from halftime or other shows for the few fans that stick around. After that, the real fun begins. The drumline takes center stage, playing the corner version of Parade Order (the cadence we march over to Beaver Stadium playing) complete with different visuals by the cymbals to entertain the audience. All eyes are on them as the rest of the band and directors take a seat in the grass, a nice time for them to relax and for us to show off how our hard work has been paying off.

Near the end of Parade Order, the music stops and the drumline takes their place for the corner skit of the week. Each week we put on a hilarious and entertaining skit to perform for the band. Some of the material is a bit on the inside-joke side, but we aim to entertain everyone who watches us. I can’t exactly disclose what happens during those skits, you will have to stay after the next home game to find out.

The drumline completes their skit, finishes the cadence, and the rest of the band picks up their weary bodies and we march one last time from Beaver Stadium to the Blue Band building. Once we arrive, a few announcements and congratulations are said by Dr. Bundy, our director, and it’s off to the locker rooms.

Hopefully I have made it clear that being a part of the Blue Band is more than just fun and games. First off, it’s practically a job in itself. We have a boss, plenty of supervisors, group projects with deadlines each week, lots of team building activities, and plenty of curveballs thrown at us.

And – oh yeah – we’re not paid, nor do we receive any sort of scholarship money. The only compensation we obtain for our good deeds is food, applause, and that warm feeling in your stomach when you know you did something right.

But really, our duty as a member of the Blue Band is vital to the university. When on campus, we act as role models of how to act at football games. We cheer constantly, never giving up on our team or our university, even in the darkest of times or in the toughest of environments. We were there when everything happened to Penn State a few years ago. We were there when Ohio State beat us a few weekends ago. And you can bet we are going to be there if anything else happens in the future.

We act professionally around other team’s fans or anyone who approaches us at any time or anywhere. Some people might go into a conversation with us thinking that we are terrible students, students who should be ashamed of their university and what their university has done in the past. But we can blow them away with our pride and respectfulness, making them forget all bad preconceived notions of what a Penn Stater is and how we act.

We don’t jump on the bandwagon, we are the bandwagon. We are the people that eyes look to in times of trouble. That’s because we have always been there, for our fans and for our students, never letting them down.

The Blue Band is a lot more than what people think we are. Sure, we play the Alma Mater and have a cool drum major who does a front flip. We like to have fun at times, taunting our opponents with fight songs and passing the lion as he crowd surfs over the students. But we are there when no one else is, practicing before the break of dawn, leading the team cheers when all hope has been lost. We may be small, but we are mighty, and we will never give up. Because no matter the score, no matter the situation we find ourselves in, the Blue Band always wins.

And when you stick with us, you’re going to be alright, we promise.

Game day with the Blue Band: Part One – Up for the fight

It’s 6:45 a.m. on Saturday morning. Most students are still passed out from a long week of school and other activities. Professors are enjoying their weekends off, and people visiting for the football weekend are still in their hotel beds. The sun isn’t even up yet, but we are.

We’re the Penn State Blue Band. Always working, never sleeping, preparing for our long day ahead before most people have even gotten up for their day.

As a member of the Blue Band, the idea of game day has always been biased. Unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury of sleeping in, or tailgating before the game, or throwing girls in the air in the student section when the team scores. But lucky for us, there are quite a few benefits to balance out the experiences that, as a member of the band, we will never have.

The Blue Band has a bigger job than most people think. As I said before, we are practicing at 6:45 for a noon game. The general rule we go by is to begin preparing for the day at least 5 hours before kickoff. This gives us enough time to do everything we normally do before a home game.

Our day begins with a full run-through of the pregame and halftime performances. Time is of essence because the tailgaters are rapidly surrounding our field, unloading for their tailgates and waiting for our part of the field to be exited. Once we finish, it’s off to fill our stomachs with the traditional game day meal: a hoagie, chips, a bottle of water, and a halftime cookie (the best prepackaged cookie I’ve ever eaten).

From when we finish lunch until uniform inspection, Blue Banders have a number of activities they participate in. Some take a nap, some clean up their facial hair and others pin their long hair back into a slick, professional looking bun. Some choose to spend this time with their families, taking pictures and catching up during one of the few breaks we get all day. This is one of the few times we get to relax, be a little bit less professional, and enjoy the excitement of game day with our friends and family.

Some Blue Banders have the privilege of traveling to President’s Tailgate at the Penn Stater to play for an auditorium full of alumni and other important university staff. The major benefit of signing up for this, something only about 16 people each week get to do, is not having to be as sweaty or tired as the rest of the Blue Band. A delicious, not-dining-hall prepared meal awaits them, and the bus ride to the Bryce Jordan Center is a lot more relaxing than marching over in either the unbearable heat or the frigged cold. State College weather, am I right?

While the people at the President’s Tailgate are busy entertaining one crowd, the rest of the band is getting prepared to entertain a much larger crowd. After singing the Alma Mater as a whole band, we form up outside into our parade block. The drum major and feature twirler are up front, behind them are the silks, the majorettes, and the rest of the band, split up into two even sized sections (front band and back band) and divided in half by the drumline. From the Blue Band building, we march over to the Bryce Jordan Center to play for TailGreat, an event in the BJC that features us, the Penn State Cheerleaders, and a couple other special guest organizations including THON orgs and famous past Penn Staters. Once we arrive, we march into the arena, perform the fight songs from pregame, play our halftime show while the majorettes and silks do their routine, and finish off with some stands tunes and some songs with the cheerleaders. After TailGreat ends, we again have a short window of time to see our family and friends who were watching us from the stands.

On a more personal note, the time after TailGreat is over is something I always look forward to – unless my parents aren’t there for that game. Some Blue Band members don’t have family that can make it to some or even all of the games. While it is nice to relax and talk to your friends, there is nothing that brightens my day more than a random Penn Stater approaching me to ask me about being in the Blue Band.

Approximately an hour and a half before kickoff and we are departing the Bryce Jordan Center for Beaver Stadium. We block up in our normal parade formation for a short march down Curtain Road, pumping up the fans that line the roads and watch us from the stadium railing.

The attention we receive, both during the parade and in general, is at first overwhelming. The amount of people cheering for you, the pressure you are under, and the sheer size of Beaver Stadium from the field. But after the first few games, you get into a rhythm. Game day doesn’t change a whole lot, so you find yourself not even thinking about the music coming out of your instrument or your marching. Instead, I found myself focusing on pleasing the crowd, pumping them up and making them smile, and having fun at the same time.

I feel it is an honor to be treated as nicely as we are treated by our fans. In high school, marching band was lame and not very well respected by the rest of the school. They came for the football team, not for a bunch of kids marching around the field playing music they had never heard before. But the one thing that turned me on to Penn State’s marching band was the fact that they are respected, sometimes even idolized. As a high school student, I never thought I would be good enough to make the Blue Band, but here I am now.

Beating Michigan, Two Weeks in a Row

“Our band’s better.”

The chant echoes down from the third floor of our hotel, over and over, from the mouth of a single Ohio State fan.

That is how I was greeted along with the Blue Band at our hotel. Not with cheers and pats on the back, the things we are used to at Beaver Stadium. It’s not the most welcoming way to arrive in Ohio, but all we can do is hold our heads up high and hope for a better reception at The Horseshoe, Ohio State’s stadium.

As we get closer to the stadium, a mixture of middle fingers and taunts come from groups of students and adults alike. Dressed in their burgundy and grey, they hold their red solo cups and flip us the bird as our caravan of busses passes by. Not much better.

The people of Ohio State are an interesting breed. In ways, they are actually similar to some Penn State fans. Though we would hate to admit it, we do have some fans that act the same way around opposing teams as they did around us. But on the positive side, they have plenty of school and band pride, just like we do, along with a fancy stadium comparable to ours, and a football nation to fear just as much as Penn State’s.

Oh, and we both hate Michigan.

Their hatred is slightly more openly expressed however. But somehow, that mutual hatred of a team, a team that wasn’t even involved in the game taking place that evening, brought our two fan groups just that much closer together.

The Michigan bashing all began at Skull Session, a concert devoted entirely to the Ohio State marching band, before the football game. For those who don’t know, we have a similar concert known as TailGreat, loosely based on Skull Session, but on a smaller scale. At one point, the announcer congratulated Penn State, saying that there were never more Penn State fans in Ohio than after last weekend’s victory over Michigan. A nice gesture for once, something I thought I could get used to. We laughed awkwardly at their strange but kind gesture, and the concert proceeded.

Later in the session, the announcer introduced a small boy who had been previously diagnosed with brain cancer. This child had named his cancer “Michigan,” in the hopes of beating Michigan (cute, right?). He did beat Michigan, and again cheers and laughter filled the room.

And finally, during the Ohio State band’s halftime show, as the theme from Pirates of the Caribbean rang out through the stadium, the image of two boats was created on the field from the bodies of the band members, one with the Michigan flag, and one with the Ohio State flag. With the help of some fancy pyrotechnics, the Michigan ship was sunk and the crowd erupted into cheers yet again.

Not once that day did I hear taunts of “Beat Penn State!” They didn’t use our flag during the halftime show. The kid didn’t name his cancer Penn State. It was all about Michigan, all the time.

It was almost comforting, not being attacked in a foreign land, not feeling like we were the main enemy of their team (though we were). They were busy feeding off of the hatred of Michigan to really focus on hating us. We did receive our fair share of heckling from countless people in the stands and throughout the stadium, which was expected. But the large portion was focused on Michigan, Ohio State’s metaphorical punching bag, the one figure they use over and over again to get themselves fired up for any and every game.

Strangely enough, I think that the overuse of the joke against Michigan brought us closer together. Both of our teams don’t like Michigan, and that one item in common made it easier to bond with each other. It’s similar to sharing a hobby or a favorite movie, something as simple as that can spark a conversation that can lead to an understanding of each other, possibly even a friendship. It’s strange to think hatred can bring people closer together. However, we are all human. We all love and hate. Football is something we all breathe. It’s the rope that connects our heart to our University. And from each rope, we are connected to our friends, our family, creating one giant web of rope, crossing over each other and encompassing our university and connecting ourselves to other universities. All of us, we are all connected. All connected by football.

The Secondary Team

Allen Robinson.

Sam Ficken.

Christian Hackenberg.

These three names have become so commonplace, thrown around at the dinner table or during random conversation when talking about Penn State Football. They roll off the tongue without any sort of thought as to who these people really are. These people are just like us though, except they go out and play football in front of hundreds of thousands of people every weekend. They work hard for something they love, and for that reason, they represent the university with their name. But what about the name Colin Harrop? Certainly not a recognizable name, which makes sense given he is a third string safety, someone people might consider just another secondary player. But this name stands for our team just as much as Robinson or Ficken. This name holds behind it a story that can compare, if not beat, the stories of some of the more well-known players on our team. This is a name to remember.

Harrop came from a moderately large high school, where he was a second-team All-Lancaster-Lebanon League defensive back his senior year. He had been scouted by a couple of division III schools, Albright and Ursinus to name a few, but nothing extraordinary in his eyes. He had always wanted to go to Penn State, his sister currently attends and his brother had graduated a few years back. So he decided to go for it. He committed to Penn State, figuring he would have to tryout for the team as a walk-on if he ever hoped to accomplish his dream of playing at Beaver Stadium.

One belief that ran true for Harrop throughout all his attempts to join the team was to just go for it. He just went for it when he asked to speak to Coach Butler, the defensive coordinator, when the coach visited Harrop’s high school in the hopes of scouting a different student. He just went for it when he snuck into the football building at the start of his freshman year and left a highlight tape on Coach Butler’s desk. He just went for it when he was one of more than ninety students attempting to walk on to the team in the fall of his freshman year. Looking back on all these pivotal moments in his life, Harrop never regretted the decisions he made, not for a second.

After his period of just going for it, overcoming obstacles, both mental and physical, was another thing Harrop had to do a lot of on his journey to becoming a member of our team. He overcame the obstacle of receiving a rejection letter after his first audition. Eventually, he received one explaining that the people on the other end messed up and they want him on the team. He overcame the obstacle of having to work out by himself, not with the rest of the team, until the spring semester. From September until November, working out, school, and working out some more were all his life consisted of. Self-motivation at its best. But the biggest obstacle he overcame was the grueling winter workouts. After every Tuesday of sled pulls, he would be puking, and Friday team workouts at 5:15 a.m. opened his eyes to the world of college football and the hard work that went in to every game and every play. Harrop was battered and beat, but he came back ready for more with every week or training under his belt.

Fast forward to today and you will see Harrop in a new light. Since he began this journey he has not only grown as a football player, but as an individual. He is official a member of the team, he wears the same jersey and comes out of the same tunnel that all the other players do. The path he took to get to that tunnel was just a little bit different.

Now you may think I’m just writing this to show how hard a good friend of mine worked to get on to the football team. But that’s where you would be wrong. The real point of this article is to show that the secondary team is the future, and they need to be treated as something more important than what they may seem like at this moment. It’s true, right now they aren’t getting much, if any, playing time. They aren’t making the big plays on 3rd down and 1 yard to go. They aren’t giving out signatures to young and old sports fans alike. But they are preparing for the day they do. It’s a shame that we can’t explore the true potential that these players possess until something happens to the first string. But until that moment, that opportunity, arises, they need to be treated like the underdog hero, ready to break loose and create history when given the chance. They are like the armed services of the football world, ready to serve and protect, at any time or day, at a moment’s notice. But they are only truly appreciated after their first game-changing moment, not when they are standing on the sidelines, waiting to hear their name called.

But until then, they will be ready. Ready to take the field. Ready to be the next Ficken, the next Hackenberg. Ready to be the future of Penn State Football.

The Crowd Impact

Saying the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game was a massacre would be an understatement. With three unanswered touchdowns in a row by the Hoosiers, and then a safety to seal the deal, things were looking very bleak for our football team, and especially for their record of never having lost to Indiana in football. Even though I personally wasn’t at the game, as I sat in the comfort of my friend’s apartment, snacking on homemade nacho dip, I couldn’t help but think that I was somehow responsible for the loss. That even though I am only one student out of over 20,000 attending Penn State, hundreds of miles away from Memorial Stadium, with no tie to how the team performs, I was to blame.

This thought crosses my mind often, the question of how much impact one person really has, whether it is impacting a football game, or a vote, or a contest. As a member of the Blue Band, our job is to pump up the team, the student section, and the rest of Beaver Stadium, no matter the score or the weather. We scream and yell and play our hearts out with the thought that we hold the fate of each play in our hands. I keep the same traditions for every single game, eating the same breakfast, wearing the same clothes, complete with game day button and lucky underwear, and screaming before each defensive play with every ounce of breath I can muster up. I do this in the hopes that the opposing team will hear just a little bit less and that my single voice will have the power to cover up the directions being given by the other team’s quarterback. And all this with the fear that if I don’t, something will go terribly wrong. An interception returned for a touchdown by the opposing team, all because I didn’t do my job.

Some readers may think I am crazy, but I believe we, the crowd, control the outcome of the football game. Home field advantage wasn’t just a made up concept. It can mean the world of a difference in the eyes of a team, especially ours. Imagine how much easier it would be to play with your student body and fans there to cheer you on to victory, opposed to a crowd filled with screaming idiots, constantly heckling you and jeering at your mistakes. That is why the most important job at a football game is held by us. Being the reason that one player may put in one more ounce of energy into one play, potentially changing the game. We may only be on the field in spirit, never leaving an imprint in the grass of Beaver Stadium, but the passion of our voices together will inspire the shoes that do.