TROY — For most, the pep band experience is synonymous with creative expression and a means for social networking, but by and large, it’s also thought of as an activity for high schoolers.
For Troy native Courtney Carmack, however, pep band has not only carried her into a whimsical season of performance with Loyola University Chicago, but also into the 2018 NCAA Tournament, when on Friday, March 30, the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers unexpectedly made it all the way to the “Final Four.”
Carmack, a 2016 Troy High School graduate, boasted a rich musical history before performing with Loyola, playing sousaphone in multiple band programs at THS, and winning the John Philip Sousa award her senior year.
Carmack also played with the Dayton Philharmonic Youth Orchestra during her junior and senior year of high school, as well as with the Troy Civic Band during the summers of 2016 and 2017.
“When I originally came to Loyola, I was not pursuing music as a major, but I knew it was something I wanted to keep up with,” Carmack said, who is attending Loyola as a biology major with ecology emphasis. “I was registered for orchestra, and I thought, ‘What was something I did in high school that I still want to do?’ The answer to that was pep band. Loyola offered it, so I signed up for the fall of my sophomore year.
“It’s honestly one of the best decisions I’ve made at Loyola. I’ve met a great group of friends, and it’s nice to get to go to all the basketball games with the band. It’s a great way to get the full college experience. We don’t have a football team, so it’s a good way to stay involved and play fun music.”
With the pep band participating in the regular basketball season for the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers, Carmack was given a first-hand view of the university’s historic run into this year’s NCAA tournament.
“Last year, we actually lost in our first round, so we were thinking we had a good chance of having a better season this year,” Carmack said. “Loyola is part of the Missouri Valley Conference, and we started at a tournament called Arch Madness in St. Louis. Arch Madness has three rounds of games, and we ended up winning the conference. This was the first time Loyola had been to the NCAA Tournament in quite a long time.
“Two weeks after the Arch Madness tournament, we went to the first round of NCAA in Dallas. Our first game was against Miami. We had a very close game with a three-pointer shot in the last three seconds, which put us a point over, and we ended up winning. They were a seven or nine-seed team, so it was a big deal.
“The next game was against Tennessee, and they were a three-seed. We weren’t quite sure how that would turn out, but we ended up winning, and that put us in the ‘Sweet 16.’l
This marked the first season Loyola-Chicago had made the “Sweet 16” since 1985. It was an experience that not only surprised students, but the university at large.
“I know this was the first time anyone at Loyola has had to deal with this, and definitely the first time the pep band has had any sort of experience like this,” Carmack said. “My director held rehearsal before the very first round in St. Louis, and he said, ‘Now, remember, we only have a possibility of going to NCAA.’ We were all so excited about that.”
For the “Sweet 16” tournament, the Ramblers headed to Atlanta, GA.
“I didnt go to Atlanta, because we’d missed almost a week of school already, and I had a lot of exams to make up,” Carmack confirmed. “My friends and I watched the games on TV as we played Kansas in the ‘Sweet 16,’ and then Nevada in the ‘Elite Eight’.
“For the ‘Elite Eight’ game, I joined the student body for a screening in our student center, which was completely filled with people wanting to watch the game. It was very surprising to see, because Loyola has never been a sports school. We’ve had okay seasons with other sports, but nobody’s been terribly keen on games. Ever since this tournament, the entire student body has rallied around our sports. It’s been awesome to be there in that dynamic with the school wanting to support its team.”
Once the school made the “Sweet 16” on March 22, sales of on-campus merchandise jumped 300 percent, according to Follett Corp., which manages on-campus stores. Spikes in online sales were reported as well, with retailers scrambling to meet the sudden demand.
After winning in the “Elite Eight,” Loyola went on to the “Final Four,” held on the weekend of Friday, March 30, in San Antonio, Texas. According to Carmack, the experience was uplifting despite the team’s loss.
“It was amazing to be in that space,” Carmack said. “There was a huge student section. Our university booked some charter buses and hotel rooms for people to go and watch. It was over our Easter break, so we didnt have class. Lots of people went, and everyone was very supportive. Despite the loss, we were still very happy to be there, and very proud of how far we went. The team had about a one percent chance of making it that far.”
As her sophomore year concludes, Carmack expressed that based on the year’s experience, she intends to maintain pep band as a regular practice throughout the rest of her tenure at Loyola.
“It’s not something I want to give up,” Carmack said. “It’s a lot of fun. I’ve got a lot of friends in the group, so its definitely something I want to keep doing.
While Carmack felt the pep band did exceedingly well during the 2017-18 season, she hopes the group can develop and improve in future seasons, and is hopeful that this experience will have a lasting impact on the way pep band is viewed by the public.
“We represented Loyola well as a group and had a lot of fun, but there were definitely pep bands there who had done this before, and were a little more prepared,” Carmack said. “I hope, as an organization, we work on playing more tunes knowing now that we can push the envelope a little more on the types of things we can play, while also staying true to ourselves.
“There’s a current senior who told me that in his freshman year people were telling him he shouldn’t do pep band. Now for his senior year, his team made the ‘Final Four.’ I want people to realize pep band is not a joke, particularly people who might be interested in being a part of it. It’s really something to be proud of.”
Reach Cody Willoughby at firstname.lastname@example.org.