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Choosing Fandom: Becoming a Wildcat because of band and football

K-State Band 2017 Spring Game
A little boy gets a band for his birthday
AC VanGIlder

Welcome to the refreshed Bring on the Cats! To celebrate the new look and feel of our sports communities, we’re sharing stories of how and why we became fans of our favorite teams. If you’d like to share your story, head over to the FanPosts to write your own post. Each FanPost will be entered into a drawing to win a $500 Fanatics gift card. We’re collecting all of the stories here and featuring the best ones across our network as well. Come Fan With Us!

I was not a K-State fan growing up. In fact, until the summer of 2000 after my 7th grade year, I wasn’t even aware that Manhattan, Kansas or Kansas State University even really existed. I went up to the K-State summer band camp that summer with my dad and got my very first taste of #EMAW, however slight.

But lets rewind a bit more, shall we.

I was born in southwest Missouri. The only schools I really knew when I was young were Missouri Southern, Pitt State, Missouri, and Kansas. Oh, we all know Notre Dame, USC, Texas, and Oklahoma, but I didn’t really care about them about all. I knew Southern because my dad went there, Pitt State because it was close, Missouri because I had an old MU sweatshirt from my dad, and KU because I spent the better part of a year, five months straight, at KU Med in Kansas City when I was five.

But I mostly cared about pro sports. And mostly either the Chicago Bulls, the San Francisco 49ers, and the Kansas City Chiefs. Two should be obvious based on my age and location of birth, but I loved those early 90’s Niners teams and Steve Young, and I’ve been hooked ever since (regardless of what has happened since Mariucci got axed).

College sports didn’t become a “thing” for me until I was in high school. And I became a Missouri fan. It seemed natural, I was from Missouri afterall, and I disliked KU basketball and the stupid Jayhawk, and Mizzou wasn’t completely terrible at the time. I had Missouri shirts and hats, played them in EA Sports NCAA Football, and generally thought I would probably go to college there.

I was the only Mizzou fan at my high school, where down in south central Kansas you got one of four breeds: Crimson & Cream, Orange & Black, Blue & Red, or Purple & White. Yeah, there were some WSU fans too, but they were mostly OU football fans. I was in high school in 2003, and saw plenty of new purple shirts that spring, but didn’t grasp the significance at the time (I didn’t even watch the game because Missouri wasn’t in it).

I went to Concert Band Clinic at K-State, sort of an honor band-type event the band program holds every year, each year in high school, and I wore my Mizzou hats, if not a shirt, while I was there. It just seemed right, and Dr. Tracz would rightly razz me for it. But by the end of my junior year of high school (2004) I had started to see the light. I was down to either K-State or Wichita State as my school of choice; Mizzou would just cost too much and be too far from home. My sister was going to WSU that fall, and they had the program I wanted (aerospace engineering). They were close to home, and I could still play in band. But at K-State I could march.

I only applied to one school early the fall of 2004. I had never taken an official visit, I hadn’t done any of the “junior” things that were available. But I knew where I needed to go. So I applied to K-State before the October 1st early deadline, and with my 3.5 GPA from a Kansas high school and 31 ACT score (from the previous spring, I didn’t take it again as a senior), I was easily accepted.

Later that fall I would earn the top spot at euphonium in the 5-6A band in the South Central Kansas district honor band, a big accomplishment considering I had to go against all the Wichita schools, and was courted by WSU one more time (which I still consider a huge honor, because Phil Black is an awesome guy). But I was firm on K-State.

My first K-State gear came from my official visit to K-State in December, right after finals. It was a K-State Bands t-shirt (I still have that shirt buried in a cedar tote in my closet), handed to me by DT. I wore that thing weekly, or at least as often as it was clean, the rest of my senior year. I bought K-State hats, and couple other shirts (but still wore my Mizzou ones from time to time, and did have some WSU gear thanks to my sister), and started following K-State sports more closely.

I arrived at K-State in the fall of 2005 to join the Pride of Wildcatland not sure what to expect. And it was amazing. I worked harder than I had ever needed to before, both in band and in the classroom (that second part nearly sunk me early). But by the end of my first semester I had experienced the high of beating KU at home in football, the sadness of seeing Bill Snyder retire, and the joy of winning the final game that year for him (I had also lost 30 pounds thanks to marching band). That spring I got to experience beating KU in basketball (!!!), and seeing the KU game in Manhattan for the first time. I was hooked hard.

My fandom only grew the more time I spent in band. It’s hard not to when half your college life revolves around K-State athletics. By my sophomore year I was in the volleyball and pub crawl bands (audition-only groups), my junior year I was headed off to Connecticut in late March with the women’s basketball team and witnessed the first win over KU in Bramlage EVER (I still laugh about that game, because at the end I was more concerned about keeping football players and students from coming through the band to get to the court than I was actually celebrating the victory). My first, second, and third senior years saw more trips: to Albuquerque in 2009 with the women, to OKC* and Salt Lake City in 2010 with the men, and to New York City with the football team and Tucson with MBB in 2011.

*The KU/NIU game was before ours that night we played BYU. So we got there early to watch the game, and proceeded to start cheering against KU...duh (it helped that we were sitting next to the NIU band, creating a purple wall at one end of the court). Currie came down at halftime and told our director that we needed to stop, because we should be cheering FOR our fellow Big 12 teams, not against. So we sat somewhat quietly through the first part of the second half. But when NIU started to pull ahead, and KU started to flounder, we started cheering again...for the Panthers. We all yelled FAROKHMANESH (you can see us jumping around (in the upper-right), excited, after that 3 goes in). And we jeered the KU players as they left the court, as their path to the lockers took them right past us. We partied that night with Frank Martin and the other K-State MBB coaches, with the NIU band (we were all in the same hotel), and other K-State and NIU fans. We won, they beat our hated rivals, all was right with the world that night, a very purple world.

I started attending K-State baseball on my own in 2008; heck I liked baseball and games are free for students, so why not. I got hooked in 2009, and I was at every home Friday night game that year..because A.J. Morris was pitching and I wanted to see each victory on his road to fame. 2010 and 2011 were even better, and I made a lot of games those years. Then I had to go and graduate. I still went to games in 2012 (I still had my student ID and it still worked to get me in free), but not as often. And in the summer of 2012 I moved to western Kansas with my wife so she could start her teaching career. We missed all the good stuff.

Well, sorta. We had tickets to the K-State/Texas game (I bought them before the season started, could have sold them the week before the game for at least double what I paid), we were at the K-State/OSU game in Stillwater that would have won us the out-right MBB title, and I was able to stream the Friday night game against OU that sealed the Big 12 championship for K-State baseball (#3MAW).

I didn’t start life as a K-State fan. And I’ve been a K-State fan less than half my life. But I fully bleed purple now, and my wife and sons do too (both of my boys’ first Halloween costume was a K-State band uniform my wife made, and my oldest has never missed a K-State home football game his entire life). My dad and sister also have degrees from K-State now (my dad got his master’s after I started at K-State — he was actually the first to go to school at K-State, starting the summer before my senior year — and my sister joined me in Manhattan after two years at WSU; my mom is the lone holdout, with her degrees from WSU).

My house is littered with K-State memorabilia (including a framed copy of the K-State fight song that my wife got me for our first Christmas together after we started dating...I got her a silly engagement ring, and we enjoyed an engagement trip to New York City and the Pinstripe Bowl), the vast majority of the shirts in my closet have Powercats (many also have some version of “K-State Bands” on them), and the accent wall in our living room is even painted purple (we have more purple paint, and other rooms will get a purple wall too). I am the VP of the K-State Alumni Band (we have a reunion this fall, if you are an alum of the band (in any form) check our our webpage for more details!) We even plan activities around K-State sports. My oldest just celebrated his third birthday last April, and we had the birthday party as a tailgate of the spring game (that’s us in the picture above, with his favorite band playing for him).

I may not be the most deeply learned K-State fan. I couldn’t tell you who played at QB in 1987 (without looking it up), or who was on the basketball team in 1997; but I can tell you I eat, sleep, and breathe K-State sports now.

#EMAW through and through, #EMAW forever.

Go Cats!