Drummed out: Pep Band padlock draws headlines

Only a day after UVA announced a $1.5 million donation from longtime donor Carl Smith to endow a concert and marching band, administrators moved to shut out the Pep Band. Literally.

Members of the Band arrived at their instrument storage room last week to find that athletic director Craig Littlepage had ordered the locks changed. The story made headlines in The Daily Progress and The Washington Post.

New locks are just the beginning of the Pep Band's woes.

On Friday, April 25, Amy Cronin, chief of staff in University President John Casteen's office, and Littlepage informed the Pep Band's managing board of the decision to discontinue their performances at school athletic events– even though the proposed marching band won't make its debut until the fall of 2004.

The reasoning? Claims that the athletic department budget has no room for two bands.

"The athletics department is shifting its funding from the Pep Band to the music department," says UVA spokeswoman Carol Wood. "The Pep Band still is a student organization like the a cappella groups and it gets funding as an independent student group. It can continue to operate. My thinking is that it will."

Budget concerns may not have been the only incentive to oust the band. The Pep Band has a decades-long history of controversy. Last December, it performed a skit at the Continental Tire Bowl that poked fun at West Virginians. A spoof on the TV reality show The Bachelor, the skit featured a man trying to choose between a UVA student and a WVU student, the latter sporting overalls and pigtails.

Many West Virginia fans complained that portrayal of the WVU student promoted a negative stereotype of their state. The skit, although pre-approved by the University, so irritated West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise that he requested a formal apology from the University. Although UVA Rector Jack Ackerly suggested that the only insult WVU suffered was in being beaten in the game, Casteen complied, and the Pep Band was subsequently banned from future Continental Tire Bowls.

While UVA officials seem to believe that a marching band would be a step up from the high school bands that currently perform during halftime at Scott Stadium, not everyone is happy about the alleged upgrade.

"By replacing the Pep Band at athletic events," says band director Scott Hayes, "the administration is tearing down a bulwark of student self-governance and free speech, two ideals that Thomas Jefferson held dear."

Hayes says that he "understands that the university would like to give its endorsed band sole access to major sporting events," but wants the Pep Band to have "the ability to perform at 'non-revenue' sports like soccer and lacrosse, which a marching band will almost certainly not have time to attend."

But Littlepage says that's not going to happen, and offspring from the new marching band will perform at the smaller venues.

The University is currently the only school in the Atlantic Coast Conference that does not have a marching band. The only thing that a marching band will accomplish, says Hayes, is "make the University, which once prided itself on not being ''just another State-U,' look exactly like everyone else."