An hour and a half before tip-off, Verizon Center is usually pretty quiet.
The most devoted student fans are just beginning to trickle into their seats, while maintenance crews clean the court and run checks of the sound system. But nestled into its designated area of the student section is the Georgetown Pep Band, ready to make some noise with a rousing rendition of the fight song.
Pep band President Stephanie Grice (NHS ’12) believes the group’s motto — “Loud, raucous and out of tune since 1922” — accurately reflects the personality of the band.
“I think it fits, because we’re kind of goofy and fun,” she said.
Unlike marching bands at many larger schools, Georgetown athletics’ self-proclaimed best cheering section prides itself on being a small and accessible organization.
“There are no tryouts for our band, so for someone like me, who was a very mediocre trumpet player before I joined, I could still have all of these amazing opportunities,” Evan Cunningham (COL ’14), a co-manager of pep band, said. “I loved band, but I just thought I wasn’t good enough. But here, it’s ok if you’re not amazing at your instrument.”
It was the open nature of the 85-member group that also attracted Allison Link (SFS ’14), another co-manager, when she first arrived at Georgetown.
“Since it’s such a small band, I was able to get playing time right away. There was no sitting on the sidelines as most freshmen in other [university] bands do,” she said.
The perks that band members enjoy — including free food at events, athletic tickets and the chance to travel with the basketball teams during the postseason — are often the initial draws for new members of the band. Last year, members had the opportunity to meet former President Bill Clinton (SFS ’68) at a men’s basketball game. But for Student Conductor and pep band Vice President Jess Hebert (COL ’12), the true value of the group lies elsewhere.
“Once you’re in the band, it’s a lot more about being in the band community and being a part of the Georgetown athletic community,” he said.
The group plays at every home football and basketball game in addition to special campus events. If either basketball team makes it to the Big East or NCAA tournament 29 members of the band follow the squad.
The pep band must work closely with a variety of other groups throughout the basketball season.
“We do a lot of coordination with the cheerleading squad. There will be certain times when they want us to play certain songs,” Hebert said. “We also have to coordinate with athletics and with the arenaadvertisements.”
This coordination responsibility is shared between Hebert, who conducts at women’s basketball games, and professor Aaron Broadus, the director of the band.
Affectionately called “Chops” by band members, Broadus is a Washington native and well-known trumpet player and vocalist. Recently, he added several selections from D.C.’s go-go genre to the band’s repertoire to represent the city’s unique brand of funk music.
According to Grice, these latest additions have been particularly popular with local fans, who have been spotted swaying along in Verizon Center.
“If we can make people dance, our job is done,” she said.
Grice particularly enjoys when students recognize the pep band’s new songs.
“I finally convinced professor Broadus to add ‘Party Like a Rock Star,’ she said. “When I see a student go, ‘Oh! I know that song,’ it means we are doing something right.”
While the band appreciates the majesty of Verizon Center, where they once played “Hail to the Chief” for President Obama, it has a particular affinity for McDonough Arena, where the women’s basketball team plays its home games.
During a recent interview, members of the band council were anxiously checking box scores from the women’s game at Louisiana State University.
“If I could change anything [about Georgetown], I would increase awareness about the women’s team,” Hebert said.
Mara Hollander (COL ’12), band treasurer, agreed.
“We try to create an atmosphere at the women’s games that’s unique,” she said. “They’re just as much fun, but they’re fun in a different way [than the men’s basketball games].”
Hollander said that although members come from a variety of academic and extracurricular backgrounds, the group is a unifying force for participating students.
“The best decision I ever made was coming to Georgetown. The second best decision I ever made was joining the pep band,” she said. “It’s a music group, it’s a social group, it’s an athletic support group. It’s a great group of people, and it’s an amazing experience.”
Hoya Staff Writer Taylor Colwell contributed to this report.