Watching a University of Portland basketball game offers a unique two-in-one experience. Attendees can not only witness the talents of Pilot athletes but also savor the musical artistry showcased by the UP Pep Band.
The UP Pep Band, consisting of around 70 staff and student members skilled in various instruments including flutes, clarinets, trumpets and trombones, takes pride in enhancing school spirit during games, dedicating substantial time to independent practice for game day readiness.
Historically, UP Pep Band members held a student employment position through the UP Athletics Department and were paid minimum wage for their performances at basketball games.
However, due to the university's current financial constraints, the Pep Band was notified on Oct. 30 via an email from the program’s director, Dr. Patrick Murphy, that they would not not receive any financial backing from the UP athletic department, putting the ensemble on pause for the fall semester.
In an email statement to The Beacon from Scott Leykman, vice president for athletics, the budget reductions for the Pep Band are a reflection of the university's overall financial condition.
“The budget cuts are indicative of the continued need to closely manage spending around the University. It doesn’t mean that music and a spirited environment at our Pilot home games aren’t important,” Leykam said. “We are actively working on other ways to partner with the Pep Band and still have them at games both this season and into the future.”
According to senior Danyelle Morinaka, the Pep Band's manager, this is not the first budget cut that the ensemble has experienced.
“It [the budget] was zero last semester,” Morinaka said. “But our band director, Dr. Murphy, was able to argue and get half of the budget back.”
Morinaka joined the Pep Band three years ago, seeking a supportive community to develop her love for music ensembles. As the current manager of the Pep Band, she has firsthand experience grappling with the financial challenges that the band has encountered.
Last semester, operating with only half of their typical budget, the Pep Band was forced to make challenging decisions on how to manage their activities for the remainder of the season.
“Usually for the Pep Band we get paid and then we go to Vegas with the basketball team and play for them,” Morinaka said. “But, because of budget cuts, he [Dr. Murphy] had to make the decision whether or not the students play at the home games and get paid versus only a select few students going to Vegas.”
This semester, despite the Pep Band's negotiation efforts, they were unsuccessful in securing any funding for the program.
Many members were surprised that the Pep Band did not receive any funding from the athletics department, especially considering UP's Pep Band has received positive feedback from players on the women’s basketball team for their ability to provide support and boost spirit during games with low attendance.
“The women’s team enjoys us being there and supporting,” Morinaka said. “We are able to provide energy during downtimes and we’re always cheering them on.”
Morinaka believes that the Pep Band's lack of funds has significantly affected the morale of both herself and her bandmates.
“It made me think that athletics doesn’t really appreciate us supporting the basketball players,” Morinaka said. “It’s kind of sad.”
Junior Cristopher Diaz has also been a member of the Pep Band for three years. Like Morinaka, Diaz became a member of the UP Pep Band with the goal of advancing his skills and nurturing his passion for music.
“Pep Band is something that I personally look forward to a lot,” Diaz said. “It's really disappointing that we might have to cancel it for the semester or maybe even further on.”
According to Diaz, numerous ensemble members are grappling with financial difficulties due to the budget cuts, particularly those who commute and relied on their earnings to cover gas expenses.
“I commute 30 minutes plus to campus,” Diaz said. “Especially coming on Saturdays would be a big burden for me.”
These financial hardships may lead members to consider leaving the Pep Band and seek employment that offers compensation, plummeting its membership numbers and ability for the program to continue.
If the Pep Band were to be permanently canceled, Diaz anticipates that student members may transfer to another university to continue their participation in a music ensemble.
“We do this because we are passionate about music, but we are supposed to get paid,” Diaz said. “There are a handful of students that are outrightly saying that if they do not get paid, they’re not going to do it [Pep Band] and there are also people saying that if the pep band program were to get removed completely, they would transfer.”
Despite their current frustrations, Diaz and Morinaka share a collective hope for a more reciprocal relationship between the athletics department and the Pep Band in the future. Overall, they aspire for the athletics department to acknowledge the efforts the Pep Band invests in supporting UP basketball teams.
“We want to feel supported as much as we support them,” Morinaka said.
Julianna Pedone is a reporter for The Beacon. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.