An hour before Northwestern’s Mike Turner and Illinois’ Nnanna Egwu line up for tipoff, some students are sat in their dorms, wondering if a trek up to Welsh-Ryan Arena is worth it. Far more students were blissfully unaware that there is even a game about to be played.
Members of the Northwestern University Basketball Band, however, began to lag their tubas and bass drums. Members of NUBB straggled into the indoor practice facility carrying instruments in black rectangular cases and pick a purple and white striped collared shirt from a rack.
On Sunday, the 'Cats hosted in-state rival Illinois in a big game for both teams. The Fighting Illini are in the midst of a midseason turnaround, winning three straight games including an upset of top-ranked Indiana. Northwestern, meanwhile, continues to fall deeper into the depths of the Big Ten. In a game played for bragging rights in the “Land of Lincoln,” Welsh-Ryan sold out for the first time since Jan. 20, when the ‘Cats played Indiana.
While members of NUBB were excited about packed stands and the importance of such a big game, their presence as a band was the same.
“Whether it’s a big crowd or a small crowd, we stand by the team no matter what,”NUBB director Dan Farris said.
When Northwestern’s starters are introduced, it’s the band that starts the rhythmic stomping to welcome the players. During timeouts, it’s the band that yells, “So, pick it up!” After a foul, it’s the band that chants, “U, U, U, all U!” When a Northwestern player makes a shot, it’s the band that punctuates the basket.
NUBB sees itself as “an important part of the student section,” said freshman trumpet player Jessie Moravek.
Some members of NUBB acknowledge its symbiotic relationship with the Wildside fans roaring next to them.
“It’s fun that we’re the ones who come up with the cheers,” junior trombone player Sara Shakin said. “It’s nice that the student section is able to pick it up.”
Yet others don’t notice the student section’s participation, choosing to focus on their own roles in supporting the team.
“We just kind of do what we do and if they respond, they respond,” junior drum player Aaron Frank said. “We just want to cheer on the team and if the students want to join in, that’s awesome.”
“Our cheers are always positive,” freshman flautist Elisabeth Sladek said. NUBB members often pair their songs with dances. Some choreography is original or improvised, and some dances are passed down through generations of band members.
A large crowd doesn’t guarantee that all fans will stay for the final buzzer, particularly in losses as brutal as Sunday’s. Attendance steadily dwindled as the Wildcats’ chances grew more and more hopeless – Northwestern only shot 25 percent from the paint and trailed by 30 points in the second half.
“If it’s a game like this where we’re getting beaten pretty badly, it can be hard to pay attention,” McCormick junior Tom Saxton said. “But our job here is to play for the fans and cheer on the 'Cats. It’s a part of being in this group.”
NUBB’s night continues past regulation time, when it plays Northwestern’s Alma Mater as the 'Cats head back to the locker room.
“It makes us proud that we stay ‘til the end,” freshman trumpet player Austin Dickey said. “We appreciate the fans that did. If I came as a fan, I think I’d stay ‘til the end.”