The Flyer Pep Band showed up for FDU at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. Photos courtesy of Sutton.
Rebecca Sutton | Contributing Writer
What has the ability to connect two previously unaffiliated universities with over 500 miles in between them? The Flyer Pep Band.
When Fairleigh Dickinson Knights, a basketball team from a small university in Teaneck, New Jersey with no music program needed a soundtrack to their game against top-seed Purdue in the Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament, the Flyer Pep Band caught a bus to Columbus and equipped themselves with plastic swords.
The band rocked Nationwide Arena during FDU’s victory over Purdue, an upset which shocked the band, the fans and the entire sports world. An upset like that does not happen every day, and the band thought their contribution to the game’s atmosphere played a role in this remarkable achievement.
“I really think that having a pep band there does make a difference in lifting the spirits of the audience, the cheer, the team and the coaches,” said Jacob Slomko, a junior music education major and trumpet player for the band.
“When you have a solid pep band like the Flyers, it can really change the base of the game,” he said.
The Flyer Pep Band also cheered on the Knights during their game against Florida Atlantic University in the second round of the tournament. While FDU did not emerge victorious, the band supported them with all their might.
It was not particularly difficult for the members of the band to switch from Flyers to Knights, and sophomore saxophone player Nylah Clements said her pride for FDU began, “As soon as I touched the plastic swords.”
“It’s very easy to cheer on a 16-seed,” she said. “Everyone likes an underdog.”
This is not the first time the band has switched identities. Since Dayton has hosted the First Four, the Flyer Pep Band often played for teams that did not have their own bands.
The band adapts to playing for any school because of the students’ passion for the game and their undying energy. This spirit is revered by the band’s director Willie Morris who shows his own love for the sport by directing the band in a custom made light-up jacket.
“I’ve always admired the students’ willingness to do what it takes to get the job done,” he said. “The students bring a lot of positive energy to everything they do. I feed off of that and they feed off of me, so it’s a constant ongoing circular energetic motion that’s going on between me and them.”
The band already had a publicity boost from their experience in New York City, where they performed on the “Today” show in Times Square and at the Men’s Atlantic 10 Basketball Tournament in Brooklyn. The band’s performances for FDU took Twitter by storm and led to interviews and articles from local news stations and even national organizations like ESPN and CBS.
One headline-generating aspect of the band’s presence was their performance of FDU’s fight song, which was an unknown song to their fans and players. The band’s ability to revive this song was thanks to Slomko, who transcribed the parts for the band.
“It’s really cool for me because I helped out with the process thanks to Dr. Morris,” he said while describing how surreal it felt to hear his arrangement on national television. “As a music education person, I’m geeking out about that still.”
FDU’s NCAA run may have ended, but their stellar performance will not be forgotten by the sports world. The connection formed between UD and FDU demonstrates a spirit of collaboration that has left lasting impacts on both schools.
“We definitely made a mark, not just on our community but on FDU’s community,” said Flyer Pep Band photographer Maggie Endres.
“They [FDU] don’t have a music department. They don’t have this experience; they don’t have a big arena, so I think it’s very powerful that this event happened,” Endres said. “It will be an important thing for this music department for years to come.”
The band hopes that their performance will be a catalyst for positive development at FDU.
“I really hope that the folks at Fairleigh Dickinson maybe carry the spirit along back home,” Slomko said. He hopes that that spirit, “can inspire them to maybe form a band of their own.”
The band’s support of FDU also represents a broader sense of community within the basketball world and reflects the school’s identity.