Since Arizona baseball and softball began to fill seats during games at about 16% capacity in early March, the football team has been taking its own steps towards what could be a more normal season this fall.
This, along with the university's plan for in-person instruction this upcoming semester that President Dr. Robert C. Robbins announced on March 8, means that the community can most likely expect the Pride of Arizona marching band to be back as well — if conditions permit.
“I want to plan on full operations so that we’re ready if we can,” said assistant professor Chad Shoopman, the University of Arizona’s director of athletic bands. “I hope we’re going to be back to normal, but we’re definitely going to have a plan in place that will allow us to pivot if we need to. We’re going to do what’s going to keep everyone safe and healthy.”
While many marching bands across the U.S. completely stopped all in-person activities in fall 2020, the UA was still able to hold an in-person class option for students. It just wasn’t like anything they had ever experienced before, from wearing custom-made masks with openings for mouthpieces and covering up instrument bells to social distancing and little to no marching whatsoever for the first time in the band’s over-100-year history.
“[Not marching] was a hard decision to make,” Max Tucker, one of the Pride’s current drum majors and a UA junior, said via email, “but ultimately, it made upholding the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines of physical distancing a lot more manageable. As a result, the band solely focused on music performance this year in order to limit potential spread of the virus.”
According to Shoopman, another reason why the Pride didn’t march last fall was because the Pac-12 decided that bands weren’t necessary if there were no fans in the stadiums. As Arizona football begins to slowly open things back up with their own phased-in approach to reentry, though, he said he is hopeful that these steps will extend to the marching band as well.
“On [March 31], Arizona Athletics announced … up to 5,000 fans at the Arizona Spring Game … 200 fans at Dick Tomey practice fields … and 1,500 for practices at Arizona Stadium,” Matt Ensor, the director of communication services for Arizona Athletics said via email. “Obviously our planning will continue to be flexible as we progress to ensure health and safety are at the forefront of everything we do.”
Similarly, as Shoopman mentioned, health and safety is a major focus for the Pride as well. Tucker said that if it were not for the band’s “selfless and caring” professional staff working hard to ensure that every band member still had a fun experience while still remaining safe, last season would have been a lot worse, but the future was already looking much better.
“With the way things are looking currently with vaccinations … and Phase 3 of reopening, a return to a normal marching band season is looking more and more likely each day,” Tucker said. “We remain hopeful … that we will be able to cheer on the football team next fall.”
RELATED: University status update: Vaccine demand continues to fall, update on commencement speakers
As the world has dealt with the pandemic for over a year now, Shoopman said that the initial decision to have a Panic! At The Disco show for 2020 was “oddly meant to be,” which is why the Pride will be sticking with this theme for the 2021 season. With such songs as Victorious and High Hopes, the show will involve the idea of overcoming adversity and emphasize feelings of excitement and positivity.
“Next year’s Pride of Arizona won’t be like anything this university has ever seen,” Tucker said. “You better be ready because we’re going to hit ‘em hard and show ‘em who’s who.”
Follow JT Thorpe on Twitter