God save the band: high school football games shouldn’t need a DJ

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Maybe I don’t seem the type, but I greatly anticipate football season. If you know me, you may now know that deep, deep down, I love football. Not exactly for football itself–I’m not a fanatic for contact sports–but at the same time, I come from a family of small trail runners and swimmers, so I could just be uncultured and inexperienced in the realm of cleats and nets and sticks and such. Maybe I’d be a football sensation if I gave it a try. 

But I didn’t write this to speculate about my fantasies of becoming a football phenom. I’m writing about something that, for an ordinary student section plebeian like me, means an awful lot: football season culture. Now, I could be sweeping in my assumptions. Football season culture could represent to me something utterly opposite than what it represents to you. (Especially if you are Casey Filkins. But for now, we can agree that football season plays a large role in our larger school culture.

For the sake of my poor storytelling and your waning interest in this opinion, let’s humor my imagination: it was Friday afternoon. The essence of school had long passed. I’d gone home, eaten my dinner faster than I should have and returned to a transformed campus. Everything was dark except for the stadium lights, which illuminated the crowds in the stands below. I saw some teachers and skirted away like a skittish rat. Finally, I reached the student section.

But at the time, something didn’t look right. And something didn’t sound right, either. Then I realized why. In front of the field, there was another match beyond the actual football game: the DJ versus the band.

I wasn’t initially phased by the DJ, but as I moved from my highly-coveted senior territory to the band, I started to feel a tension. The student section was raving; no one seemed to notice what was going on. The DJ would play his song, and the students would rave. But when the football team made a certain play that called for a traditional band riff, the DJ didn’t stop. So the band would scramble, drowned in the bass from Lil Nas’ “Panini,” to play their tune, all while the DJ bopped to his own creations. And the student section jumped and swayed and screamed with blissful ignorance. This went on for two hours. 

I’ve talked to a lot of people about this situation–band pitted against DJ–and heard various narratives in the process. People in the student section generally seemed to enjoy the DJ-inclusive experience, especially since the elevated speakers radiated music throughout the entire crowd (not just those closest to the band). I can certainly appreciate that. The hype might be more intense with a DJ at hand. But there’s another key narrative here, one to which I find myself more sympathetic. I’m talking, of course, about the band’s.

I’d be remiss if I vouched that band members just “disliked” the DJ. First, let’s acknowledge the fact that to play at football games is, in essence, their duty. It’s a requirement for their Band class. But more than that, it is a sacrifice. Several of my friends are in the pep band, and so I’ve spent time sitting with them as they play. To that extent, I’ve seen their sheer sacrifice: playing in the cold, playing in the cold rain, playing in the cold wind. They play on the only bleachers that haven’t been renovated: bleachers that, by the way, splinter into microscopic shards of plastic and stick into their legs. Most, if not all, of their drum sets are torn and dented. When the games end, they don’t go home as quickly as the rest of us. Instead, they schlep their instruments back to the band room, clean them, pack them up and then go home. This is your band. 

And–let’s not tiptoe around anything here–the band was replaced by a DJ. They couldn’t even get the night off, either, and instead had to stay just to get pushed around by some stranger pushing buttons and spinning whatever DJs spin. In my opinion, I don’t think that’s fair. 

What if, instead of spending money on a DJ, we allocated more funding to where it is truly needed? What if the school funded drum sets that were actually fit to play and not crushed? What if, at its roots, the District supported our arts programs with more consistency and completion? We can’t solve school spirit by injecting a DJ into our games. No matter how much hype it garners in the moment, it’s not going to solve our long-term problems.

This is your band, and it deserves your attention.