Loud and clear: Decatur basketball band creates raucous atmosphere

By Reece Waddell | Published Wednesday, February 6, 2019
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Fired up

FIRED UP – The Decatur basketball band performs during a game against Wichita Falls Hirschi. The band has performed at three games this season, with Decatur winning every contest. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

The beat of the Decatur fight song reverberated through the stands and could even be heard in the parking lot, but the Friday night lights were nowhere in sight.

As the Lady Eagles and Bridgeport Sissies made their way onto the court for the Battle of Big Sandy, Decatur’s basketball band quickly filled the upper section of the gym. Within seconds, the sound of bouncing balls and squeaks of sneakers were drowned out by a thunderous crescendo.

“I actually have band director friends that are mad at me,” said Decatur band director Eric McNeil. “They’re getting calls saying, ‘Decatur has a basketball band?’ They ask me, ‘Are they making you?’ And I say, ‘No, they aren’t making us. My kids want to do it for the teams.'”

Originally, McNeil and the band were just going to attend the Bridgeport game. McNeil said he was approached by Decatur coach Drew Coffman with the idea, and ever since, the band has been at each home game.

“I knew what it would turn into,” McNeil said. “That was going to be the only game we were going to do.”

After both Decatur teams knocked off Bridgeport Jan. 15, McNeil said the band told him they wanted to do it again. McNeil agreed.

Since then, the Eagles and Lady Eagles are a combined 6-0 at home with the basketball band in attendance – beating Bridgeport, Krum and Wichita Falls Hirschi.

“It feels like a college game,” Coffman said. “It’s really special. I think our kids have really enjoyed it and embraced it. We haven’t lost since they’ve been here, so we may have to take this show on the road. I think it’s been that big of a competitive edge.”

Decatur’s entire marching band consists of more than 150 students, but McNeil only brings around 40 members to each basketball game. The band is comprised of mainly brass and drumline, with a few woodwinds, such as clarinets and saxophones sprinkled in.

“If we took the full band down there, it would hurt,” McNeil said.

Participation in the basketball band is entirely voluntary. Before last week’s game against Hirschi, Decatur’s band hall was bustling with kids practicing, eating dinner and even working on homework.

As a token of appreciation, Mark Southard, father of Decatur starting center Ethan Southard, gave out $5 Whataburger gift cards to each member of the band.

“Sitting in my office right now they’re working on a big project that’s due,” McNeil said. “Then they’re going to go play for three hours and come back to finish it. They want to be with their friends. It’s fun. This is something where they’re together as a group.

“A few years ago, this wouldn’t have happened. It’s the culture we’ve built and transferring that down there to the gym. I have Parker Hicks blasting me on Twitter right now asking ‘Where was this a few years ago?’ Sorry, Parker.”

Other than not sitting directly behind the opposing team’s bench, McNeil said there are not many guidelines the band has to abide by. In three games this season, McNeil said no official has spoken to him.

“The only rule that we have is we can’t play when the ball is in play, otherwise I get Coach Coffman a technical,” McNeil said. “I have to be really careful about that. When we fired up the fight song at the end of the JV game against Bridgeport, I saw their girls coach whip around and look at me and they made us move. We can’t be behind them.”

Tuesday’s showdown with rival Argyle was the final home game the band performed at this season. McNeil said the band would have played at Friday’s game against Springtown, but he has another commitment.

The Decatur and Argyle game Tuesday decided the District 8-4A championship.

“We’re going to bring a lot of kids,” McNeil said. “We want to make a hostile environment.”

The Eagles have already clinched a playoff berth, and McNeil said he would not rule out traveling to cheer on the team at a postseason game. But one thing is certain – everyone in the Decatur gym has felt the band’s presence over the past month.

“It’s hard not to feed off the energy,” Coffman said. “I think the whole gym does. Our crowd has been better. I think our crowd gets more into the game when they’re here.”

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