A Bayou Classic without bands? Hard to imagine, but that’s how it will look in Shreveport’s Independence Stadium on April 17 when Grambling squares off against Southern in the pandemic-altered rivalry game.
Last Friday, the Southwestern Athletic Conference issued an edict, based on the unfortunate necessity of Covid-19 precautions, that restricts school bands from traveling off campus.
“As we began to make final preparations related to the kickoff of the spring 2021 football season, it became imperative for us to make comprehensive decisions that take into full account where we are with the current state of the Covid-19 pandemic,” said SWAC commissioner Charles McClelland.
“It became abundantly clear that the elimination of all travel for SWAC bands was a significant step toward ensuring an optimal health and safety environment,” he said in a statement.
Unfortunately, there’s little argument. Like every other aspect of society, major adjustments have been necessary for the World Famed Tiger Marching Band, even in practice on campus, let alone considering live performances.
Dr. Nikole Roebuck, Grambling’s director of bands and the music department head, says the ability to pivot quickly is paramount these days.
“We respect the SWAC’s decision of no band travel this spring, however, it’s a little disappointing,” she admitted. “You always look forward to the excitement of the upcoming season, and not to have a season last fall was difficult. We were excited to have a shorter spring season and now we are restricted to performing only at home games.”
Pandemic considerations have forced reconsideration of basic functions in preparing the band.
“It has changed the whole game as far as how we practice,” Roebuck said. “In the band room, we’ve broken down to small groups. It’s like having four small pep bands to prepare. That has worked surprisingly well for us, but it’s not like having everybody together.
“Outside practice is a little different than ever before. We have two simple approaches: Plan A is prepare as normal, and Plan B is adjust if a student encounters the virus,” she said. “We make sure to follow all the CDC guidelines on spacing. We are using bell covers (on instruments) to address aerosols produced by the students. Everyone is masked. All precautions are taken.”
With an eye on the end product and the experience for the students, Roebuck keeps her priorities in order.
“The first priority that my staff and I have is to make sure our kids are safe, and then my second priority is to ensure the safety of my staff. We must make adjustments as they become necessary.”
There’s optimism, but no guarantees, of a still awe-inspiring showing by the band at the Tigers’ two home games (March 6 vs. Jackson State and March 20 vs. UAPB) at Eddie G. Robinson Stadium. Virus impact those weeks will determine what can be done in the stands and on the field.
As to how the Grambling band and Southern’s Human Jukebox will be involved, in some manner, at Independence Stadium, it’s difficult to imagine silence. There’s a big video board and sound system. How to utilize that? Those discussions will unfold in the coming weeks, and each band’s plan to outshine the other will doubtlessly be closely guarded – but no less spirited.