I'm heading back to college. Well, for the weekend at least. Saturday will be homecoming at the University of Kansas and while the course of the season so far has me more than a little worried about the outcome on the football field, there is one aspect I have been looking forward to for some time now.
When in college, I never really invested in the nostalgia of high school homecomings. Part of that, of course, was because I graduated from Sacred Heart High School in Salina and my family moved away after my senior year. In other words, there was no way of taking homecoming at face value for me.
Lawrence and KU, that's another story. Once I stepped foot on campus, I fell in love. Who cared if the dorms and educational buildings were separated by two of the steepest inclines in all of Kansas? From the hallowed grounds of Allen Fieldhouse to Wescoe Beach, there was plenty to soak in, and the city quickly became a home away from home.
Then, there was the family I immediately became a part of upon arriving. My interest in music led me to join the KU marching band — the Marching Jayhawks — my freshman year. Not only did it allow me to get settled in a week before most other freshmen, it connected me with this unique community and provided an instant bond.
Part of the homecoming tradition at KU for the Marching Jayhawks is that alumni band members join the current band in playing at Friday's homecoming parade, as well as at halftime and throughout that weekend's game. For me, it was always a matter of when I would end up playing in the alumni band; there were never any ifs about it.
As it turns out, this year is the year. Not only will I get the chance to go back and fully embrace the nostalgia, reliving some great memories with many of the people I was closest to while at KU, but it also marks the 10-year anniversary of a great football milestone — the Jayhawks' Orange Bowl victory in 2007.
One of my buddies and fellow trombonists has been hard at work trying to recognize the band members that went out to Miami that year to support the KU football team. It was a trip none of us will ever forget — yes, there was of course the BCS bowl victory, but Miami also happened to be experiencing a record cold streak for that time of year (and someone, I won't name names, may have only packed shorts).
Recognizing that group, with a gathering and special memorabilia, was certainly a big draw, and I knew I couldn't sit this one out. While taking part in alumni band will remind me of some of the less savory parts of the marching band experience (i.e. 5 a.m. rehearsals on game day), I'm sure the good memories and great stories will come flooding back over the weekend as well.
Laughs will be certainly be had — like remembering the time a band member left his instrument case in the visiting team's locker room — but, more than that, moments of bonding will be recalled. We spent two hours a day, three days a week together (on top of the game day practices) on the practice field learning the music and drill for pregame and our halftime shows. Then, once that was done, we came together off the field to go to the movies, play video games or pick-up games of basketball and football — sometimes, even, at Memorial Stadium.
I spent many hours on buses and shared many a hotel room with members of my band family, and I wouldn't trade it away for anything. Of course, I realize just how lucky I am as well. I attended KU during the golden years of the Mangino era. Going to three bowl games in four years makes the experience all the more special.
Getting the chance to remember all those great times is an opportunity I relish. Of course, there are plenty of other memories from my time on campus that I will try to relive this weekend — like tracking down a crunchy chicken cheddar wrap from the union the first chance I get — but nothing will encapsulate the homecoming experience more that getting to share it with my fellow bandmates. So, no matter what the outcome on the football field Saturday, it will be a great day to be a Jayhawk.
-Kelly Breckunitch is a general assignment/county reporter for The Kansan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.