As a pep band member of a land-grant university, I was uneasy; I was not in North Dakota any more, Toto. The farthest west I had ever traveled was Medora, N.D., and now I was in Washington for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Across the lobby of the Spokane hotel we stayed at stood a sea of well-dressed, red-clad people. Except my eyes deceived me, for it was not red I was seeing. It was Crimson.
The NCAA, in all of its encompassing power and glory, placed two 12-seeds, the NDSU Bison and the Harvard Crimson, together at the Red Lion Hotel. The teams would never interact with each other on the hardwood, and the NCAA expected the schools’ fans and bands to follow suit off the court. This hotel was big enough for the two of us, along with unaffiliated tourists and some Junior Olympic volleyball teams.
I was planning on staying away from them as well, treating Harvardians like tourists observe lions at the zoo: cautiously, with no sudden movements and from a safe distance away. I figured the people from Cambridge, Mass. would perceive Fargonians like the West Acres Mall would scoff at the Moorhead Center Mall if it had a diaphragm and a sneer.
Their members’ band apparel included sports jackets, for crying out loud! We thought we looked beyond spiffy in our moisture-wicking polos and khakis. These kids wore ties. Every single stereotype I had of Harvard was reinforced with 24-karat gold. These kids seemed pompous.
Except for they were not. A fated elevator ride led to a rendezvous later Tuesday night, and, after hours of dialogue, some members of the Harvard pep band turned out to be all right. More than all right — many of them were flat out awesome.
They were conversational, engaging and intriguing, not arrogant, smug or judgmental like I assumed their Ivy-League ways to be. I, the Minnesota-nice kid, was the one in the wrong.
There are a few subtle differences between a Bison and Harvardian, however. While we accept anyone who has a pulse (83.5 percent), they have a much trimmer acceptance rate (6.1 percent). They have concentrations, not majors, which they study with a terrifying intensity — a kid pounded out multiple ten-page papers while there; I did not.
We laughed as some of them struggled to pronounce R’s in words, while they enjoyed listening to us elongate O’s. They even found $4 draft beers to be a steal (only available during the hotel’s bar’s happy hour). The biggest digression we found between our two peoples, however, was our laser tag gamesmanship.
“It would be fun,” they said. “Bring your bandies to the lobby, and we will take our bus over to the laser tag place.” We obliged and strapped on our sports bras and athletic cups. Well, we at least wore shorts. We met them at 1800 hours, and I was appalled, yet again, at their attire. They were wearing sweater vests and khakis and not athletic cups.
They must have really good deodorant, for if I ran around a maze shooting infrared lights at people in that much wool, I would keel in less than five minutes. My fellow, perspiring pep band members would not even last that long. Nobody acknowledged this cultural divide, but it was telling.
The Bison sang our alma mater and, shortly after, systematically dismantled the Crimson out in the arena. It was my proudest moment, trumping my birth and the victories in Manhattan, Kan. and Frisco. Now it’s the “Victory at the Laser Tag Place in Spokane” — as it is referred to locally.
When we were having our joint pity party after the Crimson and Bison both lost out on Saturday, it finally dawned on me that these kids were not just figments of my imagination. They are just like you and me. While we wish we had the ACT scores like a student of Hah-vahd (local pronunciation), they long for the three (three!) Buffalo Wild Wings we have in our area. We both love raunchy jokes and hating on Yale and UND. Most of all, we love band and our schools.
Now I know I am making broad generalizations, claiming all Harvardians and Bison to hold virtues similar to their respective schools’ band members. A pep band is not the perfect cross-section, and I know that there are some bad apples in our schools. But we should not judge a place by its negative connotations. If we did, I would not have met Jimmy, who humored me by reciting, and I quote, “Mahk, go pahk the cah” or Timmy, who likes to say y’all for fun or Katie, who is a Wisconsin native that cheers for the Vikings. These crimson-clad kids are okay in my book.
Ben is a freshman majoring in English education.