Jordan Willi, a senior majoring in journalism, wrote a column about performing with the Gold Star Marching Band for the last time for his hometown newspaper, the Hudson Star-Observer. Willi worked as an intern at the Wisconsin newspaper for two summers and during Christmas break. The column is re-published with permission.
One last march: My journey to Frisco and back
By Jordan Willi
Every journey must come to an end and many times that end feels like it comes too soon.
For the past four years, I have been a part of the Gold Star Marching Band at North Dakota State University. With my graduation looming ever closer, this was my last year as a member of the Pride of North Dakota. And what a year it has been.
On average, the band performs seven times during one football season, six shows at home and one on the road. But this season was different.
The NDSU Bison football team made it to the FCS playoffs, which meant the marching band got another shot at performing for the fans for at least one more game. And as luck would have it, the team kept on winning and the band kept on playing, all the way to Frisco, Texas, for the FCS National Championship game against the Sam Houston State Bearkats last weekend.
My journey to Texas started before the sun came up in Fargo last Thursday, Jan. 5, as the whole band, myself included, made our way to the NDSU music building to load and pile onto the three buses that would be our transportation for the next four days. The first couple of hours were spent sleeping as we flew south down the highway toward our destination. Even though the bus was packed and cramped, that did nothing to diminish the good times that were had while the landscapes of South Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas raced by our bus windows. I spent much of my time on the bus watching movies, reading and playing video games as well as laughing along with my friends who were on the bus with me.
The first night we stopped in Wichita, Kan. were we took some time to relax and try to catch up on sleep before the bus rumbled back onto the highway in the wee hours Friday morning to pick up where we left off the day before. Before we knew it, we were entering the great state of Texas, where we checked into our hotel and took some time to stretch our legs before a pep band made its way to the Bison fan hotel for a huge pep rally on that night.
There were so many people at the rally that they could not even fit in the large ballroom that the event was supposed to take place in. I was told at one point that upwards of 5,000 people were in attendance at the pep rally.
When Saturday rolled around, I could not have been more excited. It was my last game day of my college career and I was set on enjoying it to the fullest. We were up and out of the hotel by 8:30 a.m. and made our way to Pizza Hut Stadium, which is originally a soccer field, to play for the massive tailgating crowd had made the trip from Fargo. We got the chance to mingle with the Sam Houston marching band while we waited to head into the stadium for the game, which was a nice experience even though their football team was the enemy that day. Once the game got under way, time seemed to stand still as the band, along with the rest of the 10,000 plus Bison fans in the crowd cheered our brains out for the whole game.
As the time ticked down to end the first half, the band and I made our way to the field for what would be my last performance as a Gold Star Marching Band member. We were only allowed to play for six minutes, so we performed two parts of our normal pre-game show, which really got our fans back into the game and ready for the second half.
The third and fourth quarters went a lot slower than the first two since there was a lot more action on the field as the Bison defense stood tall against the potent Bearkat offense, making stop after stop to keep them off the scoreboard. It was not until the clock wound down below two minutes, with the Bison leading 17-6, that I began to really feel like we were going to win the game.
Once the buzzer sounded to end the game, it was pandemonium because the Bison had won their first FCS National Championship. The final score ended up being 17-6. As the football players made their way past the band to get their hands on the trophy, they let the band know how much the appreciated us and we continued to cheer as loud as we could to show them how excited we were for the win. The fans rushed the field and continued to cheer for the No. 1 team in the nation.
Compared to the game and the victory celebration after it, the bus ride back to Fargo was extremely boring, but the whole way back, I had the biggest smile on my face knowing I had been a part of something so amazing.
At the time I did not spend much effort thinking about the fact that I had marched my last march while wearing a Gold Star uniform. Now that it is over and I am back in Fargo, I cannot say that it has completely hit me that I will never march with the band I love ever again. It might take a while for it to really sink in, but I will never forget the times I had with the band, my friends and the football I got to watch from the stands that weekend at the national championship. The memories of this trip have been the best part of my college career, and I will forever remember this trip as one of the best times in my life. GO BISON!