By W. Harry Clarke
Published January 6, 2023 in the Lexington Herald Leader
I have been inspired to write this by the performances of the UK Alumni Band at recent UK Basketball games. The Alumni Band is ready to serve “the cause” whenever the regular UK Basketball Pep Band can’t perform because of holidays or conflicts like a certain one in Nashville on New Year’s Eve. From the many comments I have gotten, the fans are most appreciative of the alumni who devote their time and talents to bring the musical spirit to both UK men’s and women’s games when they are needed.
The Alumni Band was formed in 1973, my fifth year as the UK Band director. Now the band meets every year for a football game performance and memorable social times together. For many, this is the highlight of the year, meeting old friends, introducing themselves once a year to their closet-bound band instrument. The additional opportunity to entertain the fans and support the team at Rupp Arena is, for this band, simply, fun! You might be able to tell.
I remember a time when it was difficult to find UK band students who were willing to play the basketball games. When I became the director of bands in 1968, I made the pep band a restricted and special opportunity, and you had to be in the marching band to participate. Soon the band became known as the “World’s Largest Pep Band”… only at Kentucky! We numbered around 100 players each game. The band could sign up for 100% Band, which obligated them to play every home game, or they could choose between “A Band” or “B Band” which obligated them to play only half the home games. At Memorial Coliseum, the band was right on the center line, a prominent place for watching the Cats which put us in the middle of all the activity, about 10 rows above the court. When basketball moved to Rupp Arena, we were at center court but in the upper deck. That lasted only a year when we were moved downstairs to the section just above the UK bench. With seats like that, it’s not hard to imagine why the band loved to play the games.
In the mid-to-late 1970s, I got a call from Eddie Sutton during his time at Arkansas asking me how we were able to have the kind of pep band for the basketball games. I assumed, correctly, that they were having trouble getting that kind of support. I gave him what seemed to be the only possible answer. “Eddie,” I said, “You must remember that here at Kentucky, basketball is not a game but a way of life.” I’m sure that was not an original answer. But so true.
One of the perks of playing in the 100% Band was that the tournament bands were selected from that group. Since, by NCAA rules, we could only take 30 members to any of the post-season tournaments, that was a real incentive. Picking 30 was difficult. They all deserved to go, but we based the choices on the best instrumentation and the recognized service to the band. That generally meant that the older students, and the brass instruments had an advantage. We picked only a few token woodwinds, a choice for which I have not yet been forgiven.
For the tournament band in 1978, my assistant director, Gordon Henderson and I had to decide who would take the band to each level of the tournament. The director counted in the 30-person allotment, and we did not want to deprive a student from going just so both of us could go. So, in my wisdom, I decided to take the band to the regional tournament, thinking that the possibility of going to the Final Four was minimal. “Oh, ye of little faith,” a decision that I have regretted ever since. That is how Assistant Director Henderson led the band at the Final Four in St. Louis and watched Jack Givens and the Cats win the national championship … with the help of the band, of course.
Thanks, Alumni Band members for your contributions these many years.
W. Harry Clarke was the UK Director of Bands from 1968-1989.
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