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Sunday, April 5, 2020

Viking Band’s got spirit, how ’bout you?

Using childhood pop culture references, band distracts opposing teams while entertaining audience

Christian Lathrom keeps the tempo for the band that way everyone’s movement can be perfectly synchronized on Tuesday Jan. 7, 2020 in Bellingham, Wash. // Photo by Alix Condit.

By Mallory Biggar

This story has been edited for factual accuracy. A previous version of this story named Brendan O’Neill the student conductor of Viking Band. Walter Walter is the student conductor.

Attend any Western volleyball or basketball game: Not only will there be renditions of anything from “Rebel Yell” to “Bad Romance,” but raucous chants from the student conductor, Walter Walter.

“Are ya ready kids?!” he shouts. “Aye, aye captain!” the band responds.

“SpongeBob Squarepants” isn’t the only old-school reference the band deploys.

In order to annoy teams into submission, Viking band throws it back to the early aughts in other ways. Cameron Ehlers, a section leader for the band, says that when they needed a new way to needle opposing teams, the band purchased banners with a printed photo of Gibby, an odd but lovable character from the TV show “iCarly.”

Shouting “Gibby” at the top of their lungs is half homage to the character, but is mostly meant to distract opponents shooting free throws.

This level of school spirit was not created in a vacuum. Zachary Smith, the Viking Band director, said most members are not music majors, and therefore do not have many other options for playing in an ensemble. The band has given these students an opportunity to do what they love, helping create the spirit they show at the games.

“The Viking Band has also been a critical component of the game-day atmosphere in Carver Gym for our basketball teams and volleyball team,” Smith said. “It’s great to be able to feel that our contribution matters consistently and hear positive feedback from the teams.”

To be clear, the home teams. Definitely not the opposing teams.

“They are a huge part of our Viking family and make playing in Carver very uncomfortable for opponents,” Dianne Flick-Williams, head volleyball coach, said. “Our student-athletes’ experiences wouldn’t be as memorable as they are without the atmosphere that the band brings, and I can honestly say, in my 20 years of coaching, there is no other place like ours, because there is no other place with our Viking Band.”

For those in the band, their fellow musicians are like a second family. When times are difficult, said O’Neill, they have somewhere to go and someone to turn to.

Western students’ instruments lie waiting while the band practices formations on Tuesday Jan. 7, 2020 in Bellingham, Wash. The band must first memorize the formations before they incorporate the added challenge of playing their instruments while moving. // Photo by Alix Condit

“It’s honestly just like my happy place,” O’Neill said. “College is tough, we all know it. But Viking Band has always been my fallback place. It’s always been a place where I know I can go [where] there’s people that care. The best friends I’ve made in college I’ve made through Viking Band.”

O’Neill granted a great deal of credit for cultivating a home away from home to his director.

“Zach Smith, he’s with us the whole time,” he said. “He’s absolutely the greatest person I know and have met at Western. He’s a dad, so he’s constantly caring, but he’s also like a dad to all of us. We know that we can rely on him and we know that he’s always there for us.”

According to Walter, while the group is close and has a lot of fun together, there is also a great deal of work put in behind the scenes.

“I want the community to know how much work and effort we have to put in to make this work,” Walter said. “We donate a lot of time and I am so thankful that we do, but that’s the amount of commitment that we all put forward.”



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