As the 2020 college football season slowly moves from a fleeting idea to a firm reality, the headlines surrounding Ole Miss over the past few weeks has brought attention to a integral part of the game day experience in need of crucial program upgrades. The Pride of the South, the university’s marching band, is working at a deficit in funding and support. The glaring discrepancies between the resources of other SEC programs and those of Ole Miss is best exemplified through the practice field, known to many as the muddy pit between Swayze’s right field and the Ford Center parking lot.
For those who want to see a comparison: here is the Ole Miss band practice field vs the Mississippi State, Alabama, and Georgia band practice fields. pic.twitter.com/5zNB5ImiSG— Katie-Rose O'Quinn (@katieroseoq) June 20, 2020
As a member of the band, the year begins with summer camp, similar to fall practice for a football team. Learning the pregame is the first step, because it’s something that will be performed every week. So to open the year, after the field has only a few months to recover, the band begins the endless cycle of stepping and stomping across the grounds. If you know anything about August and early September in Mississippi, a summer thunderstorm is a near daily guarantee. On days when the torrential rain renders the day as a loss, the band moves inside and works on the music. However, if the rain stops, the band marches on.
“We need that practice, and that’s when the field comes in,” said Katie-Rose O’Quinn. “Sometimes it will be so muddy that you sink into it, and other times it will be a hard mud that just makes things sloppy. It’s very upsetting, especially if you’re not prepared and have good shoes on.”
To make matters worse, it’s easier to kill the grass and paint the dirt with yard-markers, as opposed to dealing with the constant, costly, counterproductive maintenance of painting the grass each week as it grows out.
“The mud gets worse in those specific spots,” said O’Quinn. “To make things even, we have to stand on yard lines. When they’re as muddy as they are, a lot of us have to stand with their legs slightly apart to avoid standing in it. That makes the picture look weird, throws off the muscle memory, and doesn’t allow our directors to see if it looks right.”
YUP. people don’t understand how much work goes into learning drill on a field marked with spray paint and adapting that to a college football stadium every week. one of the least supported groups on campus. https://t.co/1o9r8ouMie— Alex McDaniel (@AlexMcDaniel) June 20, 2020
The Pride of the South practices every day during the week to begin the year and four days a week as the season goes on. That’s at least eight hours of usage on the field a week for nearly five months. As the season goes on, the field becomes a real issue that limits the ceiling of the program.
“When you look at it, it’s just a field,” laughed O’Quinn. “But the more we start to march on it, the ground begins to morph.”
And then there’s the bugs, of which any Swayze crazy who has trekked through the field with cooler in hand are familiar.
“It’s not like we can just kill the ants, because an ant hill doesn’t necessarily mean ants,” said O’Quinn. “I have been eaten up by them and had nowhere where they came from. That was one of the worst days of my life, because I was wearing Chacos and there were so many bites.”
Although its day-to-day responsibilities go hand-in-hand with sporting events and the rigors of a collegiate athletic schedule, the Pride of the South is not attached to the athletic department in funding and monetary budgeting. Other schools in the SEC are. What this means is that donations to the athletic department cannot be allocated to the band without a direct pledge to the group.
As a result of this disadvantage to other conference and national programs, fundraising for the band’s new facility is not meeting their goal in the way they had hoped. It’s reached the point that even former Auburn band members are donating to its SEC East rival’s efforts.
The band has blueprints in place to install a turf field replica of Jerry Hollingsworth Field and upgrade the surrounding facilities.
These plans includes building a new director’s tower to replace the rickety wood one that stands seemingly minutes from falling apart today.
To contribute to a facility equal to (if not better than) others throughout the SEC, follow this link and be sure to specify your donation will be given to the band.