Travel constraints keep 'Pride' on sidelines

“The Pride of West Virginia,” the Mountaineer Marching Band, performs during halftime of West Virginia’s home opener against Marshall.

At every home Mountaineer football game, the West Virginia University marching band - known officially as "The Pride of West Virginia" - performs their unique halftime show for thousands of fans.

But for this inaugural Big 12 season, The "Pride" might not be able to join the football team at away games.

Due to traveling costs and a limited budget, "The Pride" may have to stay local.

"While the University and the Athletic Department provide financial support for the band, our travel expenses exceed the band's budget," said Jay Drury, the band's director, in a release. "We rely on private support from our alumni and friends to enable us to travel."

The "Pride" Travel Fund, established by the WVU Foundation, raises money from donors to offset the band's travel costs. These donations allowed the band to travel to Washington, D.C., for the match against James Madison University in September.

"We are very humbled by the outpouring of support from the many alumni and fans of the WVU marching band," Drury said.

This year, the band plans to travel to several regional exhibitions.

However, WVU's problematic distance from other Big 12 schools means the band can't afford to travel - even with record-breaking donations topping $103,000.

Senior drum major Katie Demyan serves as one of the student conductors of the band and had hoped to see The "Pride" travel this year.

"Normally we like to go to one or two of the bigger away games, to show our conference what WVU is all about," she said. "Our director tried really hard, but the University just didn't have the funding to send us anywhere."

Demyan said she hoped to bring the band's halftime show to Big 12 stadiums.

"We were really bummed about that," she said. "The travel fund is awesome, and really helps us offset the costs of taking the band somewhere, but it's not nearly enough," she said. "It's a drop in the bucket of the total costs."

Anywhere between 350 and 400 students are in the band each year. In order to send them all to an exhibition or football game, the University must rent nine charter buses and rent out more than 100 hotel rooms.

Some of the Big 12 stadiums are too far to drive to, meaning the band would have to fly - a virtual impossibility.

Representatives from the University, including Athletic Director Oliver Luck, have lobbied to allocate more money to travel expenses.

"They do want to send the band and help us travel," Demyan said. "Unfortunately, there wasn't any money to send us anywhere this season."

According to Demyan, the halftime show isn't the only reason the band travels.

"Whenever we go somewhere we do the best we can to represent WVU," she said. "We get to not only perform for another team's home crowd, but we get to reach out to the community, as well."

When The "Pride" travels, they often stop at high schools along the way and give exhibition shows to spread awareness about the program.

She knows The "Pride" is a valuable recruiting tool - it was one of the reasons she chose to attend WVU.

"I can't tell you how many other members can say the whole reason they came to WVU was to be in the band, and the first time they were exposed to our band was during one of those performances," she said.

She recalls the WVU vs. Rutgers football game last year, where a freak snowstorm covered the field - and the band - with snow.

At halftime, Drury directed the band to play "Country Roads," - a move Demyan said made a change in the fans and the players.

"It was so cool to fill the stadium with 'Country Roads,' and hear our fans singing along," she said. "It made a change in our players, too. It reminded them: 'All of Mountaineer nation is watching and supporting you, and we know you can win this,' and they did."

Caroline Bailey, piccolo section leader and rank leader in the band, feels The "Pride" serves a deeper purpose.

"When we get to go out and travel, we feel like we have a very important job," she said. "We feel like we are ambassadors of this state, and it's very humbling for us."

She explained the title of "The Pride of West Virginia" was not self-proclaimed.

"Our name was given to us by our fans, and we know we have to live up to that every day," she said. "By traveling west, we would be showing ourselves to people who have never seen us perform before, and we want them to be just as willing to say: 'Yeah, that's the Pride of West Virginia.'"

For her, being in the band isn't just a privilege - it's a way of life.

"Some people (in the Big 12) may not know very much about West Virginia, and we want to show them this is what we're all about," she said. "Once you're in 'The Pride,' you're in it for life, even if you can't stay involved."

To learn more about the WVU marching band, visit http://theprideofwestvirginia.org. To donate to "The Pride" Travel Fund, visit http://pridetravelfund.com.