WSU strikes up the band with Kitsap students

Fight, fight, fight for Washington State and vic-tor-y! W-A-S-H-I-N-G-T-O-N S-T-A-T-E. C-O-U-G-S. Go Cougs!”

For Cougar football fans, nothing gets the adrenalin pumping on game days more than when the WSU marching band – which has several members from Kitsap County – belts out the “WSU fight song.”

The crimson-and-gray band members finished the 2022 Pac-12 season Dec. 17 in Los Angeles’ SoFi Stadium, where the depleted Cougars – missing several starters who entered the transfer portal and three coaches who moved to other teams – fell to Fresno State 29-6.

Playing with the marching band is a labor of love. Members typically play at seven home games. They put in eight to 10 hours of practice each week and an additional nine hours on game day.

For Cat Martin, a WSU senior from Port Orchard who plays piccolo, the L.A. Bowl marked her final marching band performance. The 23-year-old woman began her musical endeavors in sixth grade playing at Hidden Creek Elementary. Later, Martin was a member of the South Kitsap High School band for four years and also part of its symphonic and jazz groups.

“This marks the closing of a decade of me doing marching band,” said Martin, who is earning a double major in chemical engineering and applied physics. “To not have this in the future, to never play a field show again, is going to be weird.”

The excitement of running out onto the field as the band lines up to perform pre-game and at halftime is what she will miss the most. Her favorite marching band memory was the 2018 WSU/Oregon game in Pullman – also the day ESPN finally broadcast GameDay there. The bands from both schools performed together. “That was my most favorite show ever,” she recalled. “We were able to goof around and dance while we were getting into our formation. We were able to just have fun on the field.”

After graduating, Martin will begin a job as a chemical and process engineer at BP’s Cherry Point refinery in Blaine.

Devi Johnson, a sophomore from Port Orchard, plays tenor sax. She started playing in the fifth grade when she joined the John Sedgwick Middle School band and later performed with South Kitsap High. In her senior year, she earned the Louis Armstrong Jazz Award, which is a national award.

After Johnson began her studies in Pullman, there was no question she wanted to continue performing at the collegiate level. “I wanted to continue doing something that I was passionate about and meet a community of people with similar interests as me,” the 19-year-old English education major said.

Being in the band has benefits for busy students, Johnson noted. “It’s always nice to forget about classes for a couple of hours and just focus on giving the crowd a good time,” she said.

While performing, Johnson is so preoccupied with playing her sax and moving around the gridiron field in formation that she is unaware of the crowd’s reaction. “Actually, when I am on the field, there are so many different aspects you need to focus on while you are marching and playing – trying to keep in time and moving your feet correctly. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to try and look at people in the audience and see what they are feeling,” she explained.

Port Orchard’s Kate Lachica plays the clarinet. The WSU junior started playing in middle school, then later at SKHS. Joining the WSU marching band was a natural step that helped introduce her to a lot of students.

“When you’re at WSU, I think it can be hard to approach other people because everyone is doing different classes and stuff. But in the marching band, at least all of us have one thing in common,” she said.

Nothing beats game days in Pullman, Lachica said. “Before the games we do stuff like the ‘Cougar Prowl’ where we march around the [tailgate] RV lot. We also have small gigs on the field next to Martin Stadium and in the Compton Union Building [a hub for students and alumni] and play as the football team arrives.”

During games, the band plays a variety of tunes. “Every show that we do is different. I really like the music we play. This year we played tunes from Santana, Foo Fighters and songs that were related to LGBTQ+ artists like Lady Gaga and Lil Nas X.”

Silverdale’s Zach Simmons plays the euphonium, a tuba-like instrument. Before coming to WSU, he played in the Klahowya Secondary School’s band. Simmons signed up after talking with musicians already in the WSU band. A highlight was traveling to the 2021 Apple Cup in Seattle against the University of Washington. “We enjoyed traveling over there and staying at a hotel,” he said.

While the Cougs and Huskies are blood enemies on the turf, Simmons said that’s not the case for band members. “The bands were friendly towards each other. The way band members interact is special. We almost have our own language. There is just a connection that’s almost automatic. During the sound check, the teams played for each other and cheered.”

“That was really fun,” he said, adding, “Once the game starts, all that goes out the window.”

The 20-year-old junior is a music education major who plans to teach music to elementary students. His parents are teachers – mom at Klahowya and dad at Mountain View Middle School in Bremerton.

What appeals most to WSU junior and tenor saxophonist Mickey Black, out of Poulsbo, are the challenging formations the band makes during halftime. In high school, Black played at Kingston High School and held a leadership position in the auxiliary percussion ensemble.

To learn the formations, 19-year-old Black explained, early each week they are given a drill card outlining the exact spots on the field they need to be at various points in the song. For example: “It will tell you are going to be on the 20-yard line and 16 steps from the first hash.” Band members place markers on the field to show the various spots they need to be until they learn the movements.

During the season the band formed the Foo Fighters “FF” logo when playing one of the rock group’s songs, and “1978” when playing the popular YMCA tune.

“That is interesting to me because you can hear the crowd’s reaction,” she said. “I want to make the crowd almost proud that they go to Wazzu.”