Howard vs. Hampton: Is It Really a ‘Real HU’ Battle Without the Band?

Budget Cuts Hit Sour Note With Band Members

While sitting in his office, band director John E. Newson held a phone conversation with athletics director Louis “Skip” Perkins. After they hung up, Newson walked to the band room and sat down to deliver disappointing news to the Howard University Showtime Marching Band. 

“We will not be traveling to Hampton,” he told the band. “South Carolina State will be our last game.”

Newson said it would cost $10,000 for the band to travel to Virginia on Saturday for one of the biggest Bison battles. The band’s budget was cut to $75,000 this year. Across campus, many other programs and organizations are also working with tighter budgets, and a number of university employees were laid off.   

As a result of its budget cuts, the band did not attend the game against Savannah State in Georgia, nor will it be able to travel to Delaware State at the end of the season. However, band members were unaware until last week that that they would miss out on the Hampton game and the annual ritual of helping to claim bragging rights as “the real HU.”

The Department of Athletics and the Division of Student Affairs provide the band’s budget, which covers travel, food, hotels and scholarships. For each game that requires travel, boxed lunches and/or a stop at a restaurant, such as Old Country Buffet or Golden Corral, are included. Depending on the distance, the band might stay overnight in a hotel. For the Hampton game, the band would have made a same-day trip to Virginia with boxed lunches. Normally, the alumni band members come together and aid the band financially, but the timing is too late and the cost is too high.

Many band members oppose the idea of not attending the Hampton game. Senior trumpet section leader Jon Neal said the support system that the band and football team have formed will be broken.

“It’s not right that we aren’t going” Neal said. “The football team and the band have been supporting each other all season. It is somewhat of a disrespect to not fund the band to go. The main issue is that this is a rivalry. The football team needs all the support they can get.”

The “real HU” battle was born in 1984 when Hampton Institute became Hampton University. The friendly rivalry grew once Hampton entered the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in 1995. Since then, the Howard University Showtime Marching Band has performed on the field at halftime and in the stands during football games between the rival schools. This would be the first time in 16 years that the band would not attend.

Stephan Naylor, who marched in the band as a sousaphone player from 2003 to 2008 and soon became its graduate assistant, said the football team would lose one form of school spirit and support if the band is not there.

“The big picture is that this is a rivalry game,” Naylor said. “As far as the issue being financial reasons is an even bigger disappointment, because we were funded to go to games farther than Hampton. Out of all games, the rivalry is the most important, and the band, students and fans should be present to show school spirit and support the team.”

“It is not just a rivalry between schools,” said Briana Reynolds, junior piccolo section leader. “It’s also a rivalry between bands.”

With the absence of the band, many cheers and songs that students hear and dance to will not be performed. Songs like “Get Up,” “Talking Out the Side of Your Neck,” “I’m So Glad” and “Old Howard Spirit” will not be played, as they are at every game.

Sophomore saxophone player Brandon Barnett predicted that Hampton would win the “real HU” battle this year with the absence of the band. 

“With the band not attending, it is as if we are throwing in the towel” Barnett said. “The band is a second form of cheerleaders and support for the football team.”

“It is unfair that we can attend almost every away game except this one. The band is really good this year and we have put in a lot of hard work. South Carolina State should not be our last game.”

Even those who are no longer in the band do not agree with the decision of the athletics department. Joseph E. Curry III, former saxophone player for the band from 2008 to 2010, says the football game will not be the same if the band does not perform.

“It is traditionally unfair for the band not to travel to Hampton,” Curry said. “However, financially it is understandable as to why the band cannot attend. Every time the band plays and performs it represents the school musically. The lack of support may conclude in a loss for the team.” After Hampton joined the MEAC, Howard won the first two games in their 16-year rivalry in 1995 and 1996; Hampton has won since then.

At the end of every game, Howard’s football players run to the end zone take off their helmets and hold them to the sky. They stand in front of the band, as the alma mater is played. Win or lose, this act is always done.

For some seniors on the football team and in the band, there will not be a real battle to determine the “real HU” this season.