Ever since the University of Arizona’s baseball and softball teams 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 moving back to in-person instruction this semester, which was initially announced by President Dr. Robert C. Robbins on March 8, means that the community can most likely expect the Pride of Arizona marching band to be back as well — if conditions continue to 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 senior, 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 [in 2020] 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 began to slowly open things back up after using their own phased-in approach to reentry, though, he said he is hopeful that these steps will continue to extend to the marching band as well.
Even further, Arizona Athletics announced in June that fans can expect the stadium to operate at full capacity again.
“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, the 2020 season would have been a lot worse, but the future is already looking much better.
“With the way things are looking currently with vaccinations … and [the reentry plan], 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 [this] fall.”
So far, this year has been operating just like any other, aside from the university’s indoor mask mandate, which Shoopman made clear the entire band follows. The Pride was even able to hold a fully in-person band camp — a summer camp where marching band students meet from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. for seven days straight to learn music and drill that will be used throughout the season.
As per tradition, the band was greeted by the current head football coach Jedd Fisch and Arizona athletic director Dave Heeke on the first day of band camp in the Fred Fox School of Music to talk about plans for this season.
“We’re super excited about doing this thing together,” Fisch said. “I’ve reached out to [Shoopman] about how we’re going to make this season special, how we’re going to be unique and different … . We’re going to bring the spirit back to Arizona.”
To stand out this season, Fisch said he wants Arizona to solidify game day traditions. For one, he said the football team will find the Pride at the end of every single home game to sing along to the music and thank them and the fans for their contribution to the season. Similarly, Heeke also wanted to express his gratitude to the band.
“This is a group about excellence,” Heeke said. “You guys are the live wire of what goes on here. There’s no doubt about it that the Pride of Arizona is a huge part of what makes Arizona great … . I’m excited to see you play again and be a part of it. You’ve been genuinely missed.”
Fisch also talked about how excited he is to be working with Arizona football and how his decision had to do with his love for the pageantry of college football.
“There’s nothing better, and the band represents the pageantry of college football,” Fisch said. “What they don’t have in the NFL and what they do in college is a band and a dying feeling of love for the school you go to and graduated from. That’s why I came back to college football. That’s why I’m so happy that I’m at the University of Arizona.”
At the “Pride Rookie Orientation Dinner” — where new members are welcomed the night before band camp begins — on Aug. 13, Shoopman wanted to stress to his students the importance of appreciating everything, especially after the pandemic made many realize how quickly things can be taken away. He reminded the band to be grateful that they are even able to experience a regular season so far, and even more so for the opportunity to cheer on the football team at their first game on Sept. 4, in Nevada.
“We’re going to Las Vegas, to Allegiant Stadium,” Shoopman said. “We're going to be the first college bands — us and BYU — to play in that stadium ever. It’s going to be a great experience. And it’s coming up quick. We do band camp, we have five rehearsals, we get on the buses and go. It’s that fast. That’s a challenge. And after a year and a half off, it’s an extra challenge. But the challenges before you are just opportunities. … I can’t [express] how excited I am for our first notes, our first steps on the field.”
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.”
*Editor's Note: This article was originally published in May 2021, but was updated in August 2021 with new information.
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