When the Western Thunder Marching Band takes the field at War Memorial Stadium these days, it really takes the field. With 235 members, all 100 yards are practically filled with people in uniforms. It is the biggest band Wyoming has ever seen, it has a new director, and unlike other schools where you have to audition to be a part of the band UW accepts everyone, even those who have never marched in a band before.
Kelia McCuddy is one of those new members helping grow the band’s ranks. She’s a freshman piccolo player from Rawlins, and today is not only her first home time marching at a UW football game, it’s her first time marching at a football game ever. As she puts on her uniform, she struggles with the straps of her brown overalls, and says she looks like a giant coffee bean.
“Not the most flattering thing in the world,” she remarks.
McCuddy’s high school band program was too small to support marching for most of the time she was there, and is glad for UW’s open door policy. She even says that attitude extends to how members treat each other.
“I used to be like super reclusive because I got picked on a lot in elementary and middle school, and coming here everyone is just so nice to you no matter how dorky you are or what you’re into,” says McCuddy.
As the band is about to take the field, McCuddy looks nervous, saying she feels excited but a little sick. “Like, what if I screw up really bad? Or like, trip over myself and fall on myself or something. It’s all of the bad things running through my mind.”
Suddenly, the band is streaming onto the field for the pre-game show, all to the cheers of football fans. Bob Belser, the director of bands at the university, watches from the Press Box.
“I imagine there’s a few kids out there who probably didn’t play a note during pre-game because they saw what looks like what 22,000 people and it’s pretty impressive. Probably bigger than their home towns,” he says.
When Belser came to Wyoming 20 years ago, the band was just 60 members. He says much of its growth can be attributed to exposure – having a website and hosting a high school band competition and some summer camps.
“It’s a little bit of everything,” he says. “Plus our studio faculty in the school of music really are supportive. They recruit kids you know to say “come and be part of our band program, come be part of the orchestra, come and be part of our trumpet studio,” for example. It’s just a great thing we’ve got going.”
Even as the scoreboard signals certain defeat, the band is still all smiles. The game ends. Final score: 24-13, North Dakota. The new marching band director George Schrader says his students may be disappointed with the loss, but, “The band always wins so that’s great. They did a great job in their first game, the new members enjoyed it. It’s something they’ll remember for a long time.”
Kelia McCuddy definitely will. She says she only made one mistake on the field – she missed a horns up.
“So for the first game ever that was pretty good. It was kind of an adrenaline rush. Being out on that field where everyone’s watching you. Happy I did it but also glad it’s over,” says McCuddy.
It won’t be over for long, though. The Cowboy’s Home Football season lasts through November, and McCuddy and the marching band will have plenty of opportunities to hit their mark.