For four years, the UMass Marching Band served as my background music.
At about 4 p.m., five days a week, I went to rugby practice behind the Mullins Center – right next to the tennis courts. On the field next to us was the band, which started practice before we did and typically left a bit later. The band members worked relentlessly, and so did we.
Our activities were very different. We ran, hit and went over plays to prepare for that week’s match. The band worked on its formations and technique so it would be ready for Saturday’s football game.
We didn’t interact much, but we both worked for Saturday.
In mid August, Western Massachusetts is an unforgiving and humid hot box. Not many students are on campus. The small population consists of fall varsity athletes, a few students, the rugby team and the band. Two-a-days were for the rugby team – the band had all-days.
We ran, we hit, and we threw up. The band carried equipment, began practicing and played our background music. The sun beat down and was generous with its punishment.
After almost six hours of practice, we went home. As we popped blisters and pain killers, the band played on. They played until the sun gave up, and they came back when she was ready to dish out another day of torture.
As August turned to September, students returned, and we both kept practicing. They were tired of playing for nobody, and we were sick of hitting each other. The band perfected their product, and we both prepared for Saturday. We still didn’t pay attention to each other – the goal was Saturday and only Saturday.
At the end of practice, we had to run what our coach called “hennies,” which are quarter-mile sprints. We ran around the band’s field, and the band played our running music. We did this run every day, and every day we were carried by aching legs, swollen feet and whatever musical compilation synched up with our conditioning.
Thursday was our final day of conditioning for the week. Thursday was the day the band played Elton John’s “Saturday” during our 6 p.m. hennies.
We used to run in packs on Thursday because we knew the week was almost over. Our footsteps went to the music, and every Thursday we would sing along with the music, squeezing the words in between our deep, burned-lung breaths.
They were playing the anthem of our efforts. They played “Saturday” for Saturday, and we ran for the same reason.
When Saturday finally came, the band went to the football game, and we played rugby. They traveled and played and showed the country their talent – which was molded by the Pioneer Valley’s golden sun. We went around the Northeast and showed teams why we were better, why Saturday was important and why Elton John had something to be excited about.
In the end, we both played for Saturday.
A couple of years ago the rugby field was taken from us due to construction. We were moved to the field behind McGuirk Alumni Stadium, and the band stayed where it was.
I went back to watch a game after the move, as an alumni. Just behind the rugby game, the football team was playing. I stayed with my team and watched them lose a close one to a team I now forget.
Standing next to a former teammate, I got lost in my own thoughts. I was swept up with nostalgia, and I couldn’t understand why.
Then I understood.
Echoing off the concrete walls of McGuirk were musical notes, full of pride and enthusiasm. The band was playing “Saturday” on a Saturday.
I felt like I should have been running.
The band is actively trying to raise money for a new facility to change, store its equipment and have its offices. While I never truly interacted with them – this team deserves a facility as much as anyone else.
They work hard, they play well, and they make this university proud whenever they hit the field.
Here’s more information about how you can help. Do what you can – the Power and Class of UMass will appreciate it.