Last weekend, the Gator Band Alumni Association held its annual alumni weekend. Over 200 alumni members attended, bringing with them about 100 family members, making it the largest alumni reunion yet.
Alumni members showed up Friday night for rehearsal. Gary Langford, professor emeritus and previous Director of the Gator Band, usually leads alumni band in rehearsal and on the field but was sadly unable to make it to this year’s event. Current UF Director of Bands Dr. David Waybright conducted in his place. Langford promised to return in 2018.
Waybright and the alumni band rehearsed for the halftime show performance, which would include this year’s featured piece Big Noise from Winneka and the classics We are the Boys and Orange and Blue.
After the rehearsal portion of the evening ended, Jay Watkins, current director of the Gator Band, announced the GBAA scholarship awards.
These scholarships, which were awarded to 14 current Gator Band students, are funded by generous friends of the band program, many of whom are in the alumni band. Association members also have provided money for the Gator Band Greatest Needs Fund, which the Gator Band uses for instrument repair, instrument replacement and travel.
“This year we have raised even more for the Fund,” said Robin Oegerle, GBAA Chair. “My time with the Gator Band remains one of my fondest memories of the University of Florida. Funding for music programs is being cut throughout education systems nationwide and it is up to us to make sure today’s students have the same music experience we enjoyed.”
Scott Francis, director of Gator Clubs and Affiliate Groups, added that GBAA is one of the top alumni groups.
“GBAA is now ranked first amongst affiliate groups for giving, having raised over $10,000 last year,” Francis said. “As UF strives toward preeminence, the GBAA is contributing greatly toward UF’s ranking.”
Saturday morning, the alumni band joined the current Gator Band on Norman Field for game day rehearsal.
The combined band marched on and off the field practicing for the halftime show, playing Orange and Blue, Big Noise and We Are the Boys, complete with the sway and all. The Alumni Band then joined together and linked arms with the current Gator Band members in their section to sing the Alma Mater, a cherished game day tradition for the Gator Band.
“Having the alumni join hands and sing with the current Gator Band is one of the most unique traditions on this campus,” said Jay Watkins, current director of the Gator Band. “Our alumni returning to the field each year reminds us all that the Gator Band is a huge family.”
Prior to the step off to the stadium, the 300 alumni and guests enjoyed a barbeque tailgate on the University Auditorium lawn and some members performed a pep gig event at Emerson Alumni Hall.
The Gators may not have won their game against LSU, but it was still a day full of tradition, support and mutual appreciation for the Gator Band and its alumni.
Still, challenges lie ahead. Currently the band is trying to attain a new, permanent practice facility. Some GBAA members have already provided support for this endeavor, which will conclude in a facility that our nationally-acclaimed band deserves. The facility will include a covered pavilion to protect students and their instruments from the inclement Florida weather, an NCAA-regulated turf field with better drainage, and a storage facility for instruments.
If there is any alumni group that can get it done, it is GBAA, which grew its membership rate to 22% last year, the second highest among the affiliate groups.
“The Pride of the Sunshine is the sound and spirit for all Gators,” added Francis. “That is why [the University of Florida Alumni Association] is so thrilled to support this program and the legacy of Gator Band alumni members at UF.