As the global pandemic forced many organizations to cancel large-scale events, the Gator Band Alumni Association (GBAA) found a new way to bring together alumni far and wide for the 2020 football season.
This year, 237 Gator Marching Band alumni registered for the annual homecoming reunion on November 13, which was entirely virtual. The format allowed alumni who are normally unable to participate to take part in this year’s events. Although unable to join the Pride of the Sunshine for homecoming festivities like riding a float in the parade or rehearsing on the new practice field, they were still able to present students with scholarship awards online and received a virtual tour of the field.
“We still wanted to host an event for this year's alumni so we held webinars to see what other alumni organizations were doing, and that’s when we decided to go virtual,” said Michelle Taunton, president of the Gator Band Alumni Association.
Gator Band Director Jay Watkins and Associate Director Dr. Chip Birkner served as MC’s for the event, and they talked about how the band program was functioning amidst COVID-19. University President Dr. Kent Fuchs gave a video greeting, and several special guest appearances were made by the College of the Arts Dean Onye Ozuzu, Director of Bands Dr. David Waybright, School of Music Professor Emeritus and former Gator Band Director Gary Langford, and former Florida quarterback and head coach Steve Spurrier.
Through the alumni’s generosity, this year’s reunion raised $19,000 for the band program. Part of the festivities included a fundraising challenge against the University of Georgia’s alumni band, which the Gator Band Alumni Association won by approximately $2,000. Other activities involved sending guests to breakout rooms according to the decade they were in Gator Band. On gameday, the association hosted a small, open Zoom event to watch the football game with other alumni.
Taunton said the GBAA hopes to incorporate an online portion for future homecoming games to broaden alumni participation.
You can rewatch the virtual event here.