They got their football team, now the Yotes have their band

The College of Idaho marching band practices Oct. 13 at the school in Caldwell.
The College of Idaho marching band practices Oct. 13 at the school in Caldwell. kgreen@idahostatesman.com

After reinstating its football team three years ago, The College of Idaho always planned to assemble a marching band to go with it.

And the 2016 football season marked the debut of the Marching Yotes.

Comprised of 22 musicians, the marching band’s first performance was on Sept. 3 during the C of I football team’s season opener against Montana Western. Band members didn’t even have their uniforms yet. They’ve since gotten them — snappy garb with gold buttons, gloves and black plumed hats.

Still new, the band members have nonetheless figured a few things out:

1) Getting in on the ground floor of anything is cool.

For their first performance, the Marching Yotes wore black knee socks and T-shirts that read, “C of I March Band, Year One Founding Member.”

“The awesome thing is it’s a blank slate. We can grow and build a tradition,” said Blake Cowman, a freshman who plays lead snare drum. He came to college with four years of high school band experience at Skyview High School in Nampa.

“This is the prime year,” said Lane Mengon, a freshman tenor saxophone player from Fruitland High School. “But we also dream of coming back someday and seeing what we started.”

2) The Marching Yotes are not slaves to perfection.

The C of I band director, Luke Strother, hopes to grow the band to 60 members within a few years. This should be possible considering the growing popularity and campus profile of the band, not to mention the availability of C of I band scholarships. Whatever its size, Strother wants the Yotes band to remain more performance- than competition-based. The Marching Yotes practice just three hours a week. Just three students among their ranks are music majors. Members balance band with rigorous academic schedules and majors that run the gamut from computer science, to pre-law, political economy, biology and pre-med.

“Band should be fun, not a burden,” Strother said.

That’s a different philosophy from many of the surrounding high schools with intense band programs where he regularly recruits new members.

“In high school, you would learn your drill and perfect it,” said Cowman, who also played football in high school and would strip off his pads and jump into the band during games. “But here, there’s a new show every week.”

The Marching Yotes are still working on their instrument balance.

“We’ve got one trumpet, one tuba and one trombone. A far cry from ‘Seventy-Six Trombones,’” quipped Strother, alluding to the famed band song from “The Music Man.”

Currently, the Marching Yotes are a little “flute-heavy,” said members. That can be shrill.

3) Yotes love their fight song. And Ozzy.

The Marching Yotes ended their first performance in September with the college fight song, “Hail to the Purple and Gold,” a song as reminiscent of old-timey grid irons, football mum corsages and homecoming bonfires as you could ask for.

“People lose their minds when we play it,” said Dallin Kroon, a junior drummer who came to C of I from Victory Charter School in Nampa.

But they also, “seem to like the rock tunes,” said Maarika Gering, a junior biology and pre-med major from Ontario who plays the clarinet.

Some of those tunes, arranged for marching band, include Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze,” “Crazy Train” by Ozzy Osborne, “You Give Love a Bad Name” by Bon Jovi, and pretty much anything by AC/DC.

Another truism: “Whenever you want cheers, pull out the trash cans,” said Cowman.

The Marching Yotes’ halftime show during the game against Rocky Mountain College on Sept. 24 featured “trash,” a percussion number performed on two trash cans, kicked over at the end with no small bravura.

4) The football team and the Marching Yotes have sparked new school spirit.

“It’s crazy how much pride this school has gotten from having a football team,” Kroon said.

“Alumni love the band. Some of them were in pep bands back in the ’50s and ’60s,” said College of Idaho spokesman Jordan Rodriguez. “People who are in school have said they thought something was missing without a band, so this has been universally positive and exciting.”

“When I was looking at C of I, the usual response was, ‘We have a band?’” said Theron Hern, an alto sax player from Pendleton, Ore. “Now people know us.”

“We could fall on the field, and they would still love us,” Mengon said.

See the football, but come for the Marching Yotes

The Yotes play two more home games at Simplot Stadium, against Southern Oregon on Oct. 22 and eastern Oregon on Oct. 29.

The Marching Yotes will perform at the Oct. 29 game. Get your tickets at yoteathletics.com.

Keep up with the Marching Yotes on Facebook.