Western Nebraska Observer - Observations all along the line - Kimball & the Southern Panhandle First

By Dave Faries

The Kimball Pep Band Set The Tone Through A Successful Season


Vicki Stull

Team and cheerleader uniforms are often spotted in the band. Ben Sauter and Jaycie Walker share sheet music.

The pounding of half a dozen basketballs on the hardwood echoed across the arena. Conversations held by players and coaches reached the stands, where spectators sat in an eerie quiet.

On the rare evening when Kimball’s pep band cannot travel with the team, the very tone of the game changes.

“You can’t get focused--something’s missing,” said Jessica Hanks, who plays basketball, volleyball and baritone. “It’s hard to warm up without music.”

Fortunately for Kimball’s athletic teams, the band misses very few outings. This year they even appeared at all three boys state basketball games. In the consolation round, they were even asked to perform the national anthem.

On ordinary nights, the pep band, directed by Kristi Hiles-Smith, revs up the teams and crowd during pre-game preparations and at halftime, playing a mix of old and new songs--from familiar favorites like “Proud Mary” and “Louie, Louie” to pieces with names that would puzzle many grandparents, such as “Kernkraft 400.”

“I try to mix it up,” Hiles-Smith explained.

Of course, there are a few regulars. The Longhorns’ fight song, otherwise known as “Hail to the Varsity,” prompts Kimball fans to their feet each game. And, Hiles-Smith adds, “our opening number is always ‘Crunch Time.’”

What follows varies according to the situation, but “Crunch Time” leads the way.

“I don’t know why,” the director admitted. “Tradition, I guess.”

The band features 42 students. During the fall and winter sports seasons, however, this number fluctuates from game to game--and even from the girls basketball opener to the boys nightcap.

Of the school’s 42 music students, 16 play on the boys or girls basketball squad, as well.

“Without the boys, the low brass section is gone,” observed Ashley Hickman.

Game nights during the winter schedule force Hiles-Smith into a juggling act. During girls games, some prominent instruments disappear as their owners battle on the floor. When the boys begin warm ups, the band must change its tune while trombones and other serious instruments sit idle.

But, said Jake Reader of the football and basketball team (as well as the low brass section), “she makes it work.”

The Kimball band includes members of every sport, as well as cheerleaders. It’s not unusual to spot bright red and white uniforms behind instruments.

Hanks admits that game situations sometimes run through her mind as she tries to follow the sheet music. Once in awhile she even loses her place momentarily.

“You just stop and think ‘what am I doing?’” she said with a laugh. “It’s quite the struggle, but it’s worth it.”

Without the band in place, enthusiasm saps from pre-game warm ups. Of equal importance, Reader said, the atmosphere lags without the supportive band members, who cheer the team on during the contest.

In those situations, he continued, “we have to find our own energy.”

Band members understand their role in the game. They entertain the crowd, encourage their involvement and--during events drawing bands from both sides--trade fire with musicians from the other school.

“The players love it,” Hickman said. “They tell us how much they appreciate our playing.”

Kimball’s pep band paced the boys basketball team through their appearances at state. But performing at Devaney Sports Center and other large venues is daunting at times.

“You feel kind of small,” Ben Sauter explained. “There are people listening to you and you have to play loud.”

“Those huge venues soak up the sound,” Hiles-Smith agreed.

Still, the band’s spot-on version of the national anthem before the Saturday game in Lincoln not only caught the attention of the crowd, it also showed just how proficient a small school pep band missing several of its top musicians to the basketball team can be.

“It was fun,” Hanks said of the band’s time supporting the team at state. “We played for a bigger crowd, we helped the boys--it was a good experience.”


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