Wildcat Marching Band: A Tradition NMU Athletics

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Photo by Lindsey Eaton: The Marching Band parades onto the football field at the Superior Dome during the Homecoming game this fall.

Noah Hausmann

The Wildcats line up on the field, ready to play with teamwork and precision, performing at the highest level of their abilities. They’ve practiced for countless hours this season to hone their skills, training their fingers and feet. Mentally, they’ve studied the moves, the formations and prepared their nerves. It’s that big moment—game day—and they’re ready to lay down beats and make some melodies.


Whether the NMU football team wins or loses, every home game, the Wildcat Marching Band is there to cheer them on, continuing a legacy of proud performances.

This year’s Marching Band has 109 members, the largest number since the 1970s, consisting of woodwinds, brass and percussion instruments as well as a color guard that twirls flags and other creative props to add even more flare to every show. They perform at every NMU football home game, for the pregame and between plays to amp up crowd excitement, as well as their biggest challenge: a new halftime show each time.

“It’s awesome,” said snare drummer Matt Johnson, a senior secondary education major. “There’s nerves, excitement, and kind of an arrogant confidence,” he added with a grin. “The things we do, we practice to excellence. It’s exciting to step onto the field knowing we’re prepared and have what we need to make a good show happen.”

Dressed in their iconic white jackets, spats and plumes, green pants and golden sashes, they march to form dazzling shapes, including the tradition of spelling out “Cats” on the field. Their goal: to inject players and audience with a healthy jolt of Wildcat energy. In addition to the NMU Fight Song, they bring their big band sound to today’s pop hits and vintage rock songs, like “Uptown Funk” and “You Can Call Me Al.”

Music professor Steven Grugin has been directing the Marching Band for 21 years, which also plays for the Homecoming Parade and Fall Commencement.

“I feel lucky,” Grugin said. “I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do. Our band is very nurturing and supportive of each other. They’re the most dedicated group on campus.”

Band members practice together for as many as 10 hours on game weeks, not including individual study time. Members also arrive to campus a week before fall semester starts for Band Camp, with practice from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, as well as half-days of rehearsal on Saturday and Sunday. And that’s just for Marching Band. Many members also perform in the pep bands at hockey, basketball or volleyball games.

“It’s an incredible amount of work,” Johnson explained. “But if you do it right, you get to hang out with good friends, and couple that with a love for music, and the time requirements aren’t as big a deal.”


Although the band may not get as much attention as sports teams, Johnson admitted, hearing audience applause can make members’ efforts worthwhile.

“The compliments we receive at shows from people who enjoy the band make up for any lack of appreciation we might receive,” Johnson said.

The university provides uniforms and instruments if needed, but otherwise Marching Band members perform unpaid and receive 0.5 or no credit hours each semester. Most members joined a marching band in middle school and continued on in the activity through college. For them, it’s a group to make lasting friendships and to continue their passion for music, especially since most of their majors are not in music.

“It’s great,” said trumpet player Tucker Zelinsky, a sophomore environmental studies major. “At the end of the day, there’s a real sense of accomplishment.” Alto saxophonist Alex Kruithof, a sophomore fisheries and wildlife management major added, “Our band is like a giant family.”
Kelsey Hibbard, a sophomore secondary education major and member of

the color guard, chimed in too, “Performing together is so satisfying. We always hope to engage the audience. We love supporting the team, and we try to bring that energy, that Wildcat spirit to games.”

Monday afternoon, the members crammed into the band room in the Thomas Fine Arts Building to review video of their performances this past weekend, when they traveled with the football team—a rare occurrence—to an away game in Allendale against Grand Valley State University. As the Wildcat team duked out against the Lakers, the two marching bands collaborated together in a number of shows.

“I’m proud of everything you did. You performed well,” Grugin told the band. “You guys will remember it for the rest of your lives.”