The shot clock still shows eight seconds, but the Penn band has already started counting.
“Five! Four! Three! TWO! ONE!” They chant loudly in unison. Next comes the unmistakable “ERHH!” noise signaling their fake shot clock has expired.
CLANG! Another premature shot bounces off the rim as the Brown women’s basketball team just can’t seem to shake the band’s shot clock chant.
Instances such as these from the Penn band have now become the norm at Penn basketball games. The energy they bring has become a staple in creating the atmosphere that makes the Palestra so special. When they aren’t forcing ill-advised shots, they are blasting popular songs like "Havana" or "Shut Up and Dance," and maybe most importantly, cheering.
“They’re like our sixth man,” Penn men’s basketball junior forward AJ Brodeur said. “They’re our people on the sideline helping us out every game, and we love what they do.”
“You’re going to the games, cheering and giving your all to the [Penn] teams and to heckle the other team,” senior drum major Zabryna Atkinson-Diaz said. “It’s really fun to be so close to the court in the Palestra and traveling with the team.”
What many people don’t realize is how often the band travels.
They make their way to as many road games as they can, even splitting up the band to make sure both teams get support if one is home and one is away. In what they call “band bifurcation,” about 25 members will travel on the road with the men’s team while the remaining members play for the women’s home games.
According to Band Director Greer Cheeseman, the band is supported by the Office of Student Life and Penn Athletics, the latter of which provides travel funding to away basketball and football games. The band also needs to raise around $35,000 a year from alumni and donors to fund general operations. Cheeseman was a part of the Penn band when the Red and Blue went to the Final Four in 1979 and has been involved for 45 years, so he doesn’t lack connections.
“They’ve come through for me every year,” he said of the alumni. “And they’re still involved. At the Princeton games over the winter break, I had to bring the alumni out, and we had a good showing for both games, home and away.”
More often than not at away games, the band ends up being the most vocal of all the fans, including the home fans.
“We’re a loud group,” Atkinson-Diaz said. “There have definitely been away games when we’re more present than the entire home arena. … We like to feel like we have a small impact on a couple of close games.”
All of the travel has helped create a sense of community and mutual appreciation between both basketball teams and the band.
When both teams played at Columbia earlier in the season, the band wasn’t able to play "The Red and the Blue" following a victory by the women’s team. But the team decided to go over to where the band was sitting so that they could sing the song together.
“That is the epitome of that camaraderie,” Atkinson-Diaz said. “It’s not that we go because we’re rewarded, but it feels nice to be appreciated. And we’re in total support of our teams and they love the effort we put in.”
“They travel long ways on the road, and we see them on the road and it’s like, ‘Wow, you guys really made the trip,’” men's senior guard Antonio Woods said. “I really appreciate having that band there behind us; there’s nothing like it.”
“I’m incredibly grateful for what the band does,” men’s coach Steve Donahue said. “To go on the road and hear that band and see the cheerleaders, where most teams don’t bring their cheerleaders or band, it’s just a great feeling and a sense of pride for us."
“We use the word Whanau, as a family. And we consider them part of our Whanau, part of our basketball family. We’re all really grateful for what they do and the time they put in.”
When you’re enjoying the classic Palestra atmosphere at the next Penn basketball game, thank the band for doing their part.
And then don’t hesitate to join in on their next shot clock chant.
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