By Dedra Cordle
As the seconds ticked away on the scoreboard to signify the end of the first half of play, the Franklin Heights High School marching band stood up from their position behind the goalpost to prepare for what was to come.
On a typical Friday night, the 98-member band would use this time to gather on the field with instruments in hand and put on a show for the crowd. This was, however, anything but a typical Friday night.
While the football teams were making their way to the locker room, the band left their instruments behind to find the best spot in the stadium. Some chose to go into the stands, some jostled for position at the fence, and some stood on the track with a look of anticipation on their faces.
At this point, band director Mark Sturm should have been in panic mode over the splintering of his troops. Upon a search of the stadium, he was found near the sideline marker with his iPhone on film mode.
To say the crowd that had been hoping to see the home band perform was confused would be to put it lightly.
But as the buzzing got louder, the field was overtaken with a 300 strong marching band unit sporting crimson and cream. It wasn’t the colors of Briggs, the rival school the Falcons were playing, but those of the University of Oklahoma.
As the puzzled crowd looked on, their sounds rang out with alarming clarity as the members of the collegiate band put on their own show-stopping performance.
For the duration of their time on the field, the members of the Franklin Heights marching band only lost their smiles once, and that was to pick their jaws off the floor.
The crowd too, a majority of whom were going to be rooting for the Ohio State Buckeyes as they played OU the following day, were shocked and delighted.
As Strum later said, it was a day no one who saw them perform was likely to forget.
“I think we’ll remember this for the rest of our lives,” he said.
And to think, it almost didn’t happen.
It was January of this year and the president of the University of Oklahoma had yet to give approval for the entire band to travel to Columbus when the Sooners football team was to play against the Buckeyes for the second home-and-home series.
As Brian Britt, the director of athletic bands, tells it, they were fretting over his decision.
“We really wanted to come here and have this experience,” he said.
In the late spring, the Pride of Oklahoma was given the green light to come, and with that came a decision on where to practice.
Since the 1960s, the OU marching band has been traveling to local high schools when they are in town for away games. Former band member Valerie Wakefield said it is one of their most cherished traditions.
“It’s a way to get to know the local community and to give the high school students the opportunity to see a college band they may not normally be able to see,” she explained.
They could have chosen to go anywhere in the Columbus area, but Jeff Warner had their ear.
Upon dropping his son Mason, a 2014 graduate of Grove City High School, off after winter break, he struck up a conversation with Britt about their travel plans to Columbus.
Since they didn’t know at the time, Warner said he kept in touch with Britt (Mason plays the tuba in the marching band) because he wanted them to think about stopping at one of the schools in the South-Western City Schools District.
And when news of the approval reached him, Warner got on the phone with Sturm, his friend since high school, and asked if they would be willing to host the 337-member OU marching band.
To do so, the bands at both Franklin Heights and Briggs would have to agree to give up their halftime performances so the OU band could rehearse theirs for the following day. Sturm said it wasn’t a difficult decision.
“The chance for our kids to see the Oklahoma band in person was too good to pass up,” he said.
Not only did the band members get to see one of the best collegiate marching bands in the nation, but they also got to interact with them before the game at practice, at a dinner, and after halftime before they got on their buses.
“It meant so much to our kids,” said Sturm.
He added that it even affected their performance after the game.
“I think the kids used it as inspiration for the rest of the night,” he said, recalling their “straight lines” and crisp sound as they put on a post-game show.
But it also went beyond that.
Sturm said on the following Monday, he asked his students what that day with the Oklahoma band meant to them. Many said they were happy they got to see a collegiate band in person, others said they are now looking at Oklahoma as their school after graduation, and nearly all said they now have an interest in marching at the collegiate level after meeting with the Sooner band.
“It (their appearance and interaction) helped spark a greater interest in college band in general and that’s huge,” said Sturm.