By Ryan Clark
SAN JOSE – There’s three minutes to go here in the arena, where Xavier’s basketball squad is ending their open practice in front of its fans.
Thursday night they will tip off against Arizona in the NCAA’s Sweet Sixteen. But right now, on a Wednesday afternoon, the team is goofing around, having fun and enjoying being college student-athletes. They end the shootaround the way they always do—by heaving shots from half-court and beyond.
It’s debatable who enjoys this more—the athletes, with huge smiles on their faces, the fans, who gasp and shout when a long shot comes close to going in, or the members of the pep band, who seem to pay the most attention, maybe because the shots are coming directly toward them. A ricochet here or there and a basketball could easily end up in a tuba.
But the band members love it, just as they love the travel, the camaraderie and the performing. It’s all part of this amazing, crazy run, say the two lone seniors, Danielle Dumas and Joe Scharf. And the more Xavier men’s basketball wins, the crazier it gets.
“It’s just been so much fun this go around because the team hasn’t been projected to be so good,” says Danielle, a 22-year-old senior Criminal Justice major from Centreville, Va.
Danielle says she joined the pep band on a lark.
“As a sophomore my friend told me they needed some people to join,” she admits. “I was decently musically talented, so I did.”
And what instrument did she choose?
“The cowbell,” she says, laughing. “I picked it because I knew the person playing the cowbell always gets on TV.”
So she did. “Now I love it and I continue to do it, and I met some of my best friends that way,” she says.
People don’t understand, she says, that members of the pep band can travel with the athletic teams in the postseason. Traveling members are chosen based on seniority and the number of men’s and women’s games they’ve worked during the season. This year, Danielle and Joe were chosen to travel—and they’ve had an especially crazy itinerary.
Here’s what the pair have been doing since Saturday, March 4, when the Xavier women played Butler in the Big East Tournament in Milwaukee:
- March 4 – Drove six hours to Milwaukee for women’s Big East Tourney game.
- March 5 – Drove six hours back to Cincinnati.
- March 7 – Drove 10 hours to New York City for men’s Big East Tourney game.
- March 11 – Drove 10 hours back to Cincinnati.
- March 14 – Flew to Orlando for the NCAA Tournament first round.
- March 19 – Flew back to Cincinnati.
- March 21 – Flew to San Jose for NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen.
“Professors are very understanding,” Danielle says. “I can email most of my work, so a lot of the time, they’re like, ‘Go. Have fun.’”
“I actually rescheduled an internship interview this week because I was traveling to the Sweet Sixteen with the team,” says Joe, a 22-year-old senior Biology major from Dayton who plays bass drum. “They were really cool about it—they actually said they remembered following their college team when they went to the Sweet Sixteen, so I think I’m okay.”
Joe joined the pep band as a freshman after playing in marching band in high school. He wanted to keep playing an instrument, but did not want the pressure of a full ensemble.
“This is low-key and laid back,” he says. “I found a bunch of interesting people. It’s a challenge sometimes time-wise, but if you love it, you make room for it.”
Both Danielle and Joe have traveled before. Joe traveled to the women’s conference tournament in 2015 and the men’s Big East Tournament last season, but he missed last year’s trip to the NCAAs because he was studying for the MCAT.
Danielle was there for last season’s NCAA second-round upset loss to Wisconsin. “That was the worst,” she says.
This season, Danielle wanted a better feeling in the NCAAs, and Joe vowed that nothing—not even an internship interview—would keep him from joining the team on this run.
“I decided it was worth having to make up schoolwork to do this,” Joe says. “I’m not going to get this opportunity again so I’m definitely going to take full advantage of it. This is awesome.”
“I remember what that plane ride home was like after the Wisconsin loss,” Danielle says. “I did not want that to happen again. The Florida State win blew my mind. And my family and friends say we were really loud over the TV for that game. I love that.”
Danielle will probably head off to the Police Academy in Virginia when she graduates in the spring, while Joe has decided to be a high school biology and chemistry teacher. Both say they will never forget this memorable ride.
“I’m cheering on as loud as I can,” Joe says. “If I could pick a year to go out on, with so many hurdles and so much this team has overcome, this would be it. Their comeback has been wonderful, and it’s been so incredible to be part of it.”