Meet Michigan’s Only Community College Pep Band
By Peter D. Koryzno
MCC Communications Manager
While spectators are pleasantly surprised to discover a pep band at a community college sporting event, opposing coaches dread the edge that the Jayhawk Sound gives MCC’s volleyball and basketball squads inside Bartels-Rode Gymnasium.
“Teams hate coming to Muskegon to play and a large part of that home court advantage is due to the Jayhawk Sound,” noted MCC Coach Rick Rykse, whose powerhouse women’s volleyball squads are a near-perfect 33-2 at home. “It helps our team get fired up and also gets the crowd more involved. When opposing coaches spend more time complaining about the Jayhawk Sound than they do coaching, it’s always to our advantage.”
The brainchild of MCC Music Director Daniel Meyers, Jayhawk Sound is Michigan’s only community college pep band. The group traces its roots to 2010, Meyer’s first year on campus. A four-sport athlete at Manistee Catholic High, Meyers played in and directed pep bands at the University of Michigan, where he and his college roommate organized the first one for home Wolverines’ women’s basketball games.
At MCC, he pitched his idea to Athletics Director Marty McDermott, who loved it. The college’s new president, Dale Nesbary, a trombone player in Michigan State University’s bands, was an easy sell.
“It’s all about the environment,” said Meyers. “You are there to support the team but you are creating this environment for the spectator, too. It’s not just making noise.”
The Jayhawk Sound had a dozen musicians turn out that first year and has buoyed to as many as 25 in subsequent seasons. The challenge, said Meyers, is getting students to volunteer and commit their time around a fluctuating home sports schedule. Lugging percussion and keyboard equipment from Overbrook to the gymnasium can sometimes add up to three hours per contest, especially on snowy evenings. Some students play for a college credit, but most love the excitement and the mixture of watching collegiate contests and the chance to perform crowd-pleasing, familiar ‘’jock rock” melodies.
“I like the YMCA song because everyone knows it and likes singing to it,” said MCC student trumpet player Lydia Sweet, a Reeths Puffer High grad who’s been playing since fifth grade. “We’ll play ‘Thriller’ and the people will do the scream in it. It’s funny because you don’t know what to expect.”
Fellow trumpeter, Jack Harrison from Kent City, has been approached by parents from MCC’s foes. “They wish that we could come and play for their team. They appreciate us being there and keeping the atmosphere going.”
Meyers chooses selections from a playlist that has grown to 42 songs. There are also “shorts,” such as “Let’s Go Blue,” for the brief timeouts. When he formed Jayhawk Sound, Meyers scoured the archives and found out that MCC has a decades-old school song – Margaret Erickson’s “Let’s Go Jayhawks” – without any lyrics. He has folks working on words for the melody and hopes to unveil those lyrics in the fall.
The Jayhawk Sound performers all credit the gregarious Meyers with making the experience fun. As he recruits the area’s 40-plus high schools, Meyers meets with scholastic musicians and promotes Jayhawk Sound among the many options available to them in MCC’s robust music program. With more students participating, the group can perform at both basketball games – instead of one – when the women and men play on the same night, said Meyers.
“I’m not near where I want to be with Jayhawk Sound yet,” he concluded. “I want to be even more integral to the game.”
Reprinted from MCC Reflections Summer 2015