From the time the JCU men’s basketball team competed in the NCAA Division III Final Four in 2004, the JCU pep band has been invited to perform in Salem,Va. each year since. Although the Blue Streaks will not be attending the championships this year, the pep band has been asked to return to bring music to the courts Friday, March 21 and Saturday, March 22.
Martin Hoehler, JCU pep band director of 14 years, talked about the first time the group performed in Salem in 2004.
“The auditorium was huge compared to the Division III schools the band had been playing at. It was really fun traveling with the band and the student section,” said Hoehler.
In 1993, Chuck Beilstein, then a recent graduate of JCU, started the JCU pep band. Celebrating its 21st anniversary this year, the once unofficial band has now grown to 40 members — one of the largest groups in the band’s history.
While the majority of the student band members will be going to Salem, band alumni will fill any empty instrument spots on the trip, as done during football and basketball seasons.
The games take place in the Salem Civic Center, a stage that was used for a scene in the movie “Borat,” and has housed Bill Cosby, Kenny Chesney, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Def Leppard and Larry The Cable Guy. The JCU Pep Band now has a nationally-recognized presence, and will take the stage once again for the 11th time.
Carey Harveycutter, director of tourism at the Civic Center, invites the band back every year. His responsibilities include handling NCAA championship events, DIII football, DII softball, women’s lacrosse and the Salem fair.
“We invite the JCU band each year because they add so much to the atmosphere of the championship,” Harveycutter said. “Many DIII schools do not have pep bands so we basically have our own ‘house’ band. The band has a lot of enthusiasm and is quite good. It just would not seem like DIII men’s basketball without the John Carroll band, with Hoehler at the helm playing the anthem and providing entertainment.”
Back in 2005, a year after their appearance at the NCAA Championships, the men’s basketball team did not compete. However, Hoehler called the Salem Civic Center and asked if they wanted the band to return to play. After securing the first yes, the Civic Center has asked the band back every year since then.
This year’s trip will be senior percussionist Niklis Petecca’s fourth time going to Salem.
“Getting to go somewhere new and play with national attention is something to be incredibly proud of,” Petecca said. “The amount of thanks we receive at the end is also pretty incredible.”
The JCU pep band maintains an unbiased stance on playing by not taking a particular team’s side.
“One year a school gave us a copy of their fight song but we couldn’t play it,” Hoehler said. “We had to stay the house band.”
In addition to playing, the band can observe the crowd and pick up new ideas of how to support the JCU teams back home.
“It is exciting to show off all that the JCU band program has to offer and get our name out there,” sophomore horn player Janel Dempsey said. “It is a great chance to bond over the weekend because that is what our program is all about: being together and playing music.”
The band stays the whole weekend with semifinals on Friday and finals on Saturday. The band uses its own funds to secure a bus for the six and a half hour ride down to Virginia, with the Salem Civic Center helping with funds for the hotel.
“I’m excited to spend time with my band friends away from John Carroll,” junior tuba player Robert Daniell said. “Now that I am a Salem veteran, it’ll be fun to help the newcomers get around Salem and see everything worth seeing.”