When you're a part of the Prairie View A&M Marching Storm, excellence is demanded, even in warm-ups. The price of excellence is time. The payoff of practice is perfection.
The trek from the band hall to Blackshear Stadium for each Panther home game announces the arrival of the premier marching band in the country. They are the face of the university, the most noticeable symbol. Say Prairie View to anyone. From California to Connecticut, they say Storm.
"When I saw Florida A&M's band in high school, I knew immediately that I wanted to be a part of that," said Dr. George Edwards, the band's director. "I think that happens a lot with the students with Prairie View's band. A lot of times, they see the band, but never see the university, and they get an impression of what the university is about just by looking at the band."
It hasn't always been this way. When Edwards took over as director in 1984, the band totaled 25 pieces. Twenty years later, there are nearly 300, and for those who are privileged enough to carry them, it's what musical dreams are made of.
"This was salvation of music to me," said band member Michael Riddick II. "I always knew that there was a way to make music seem very colorful, and a lot of times when I was in high school, I didn't get that color in music."
"We get applause in house from everywhere," said a fellow Storm member, Matthew Dada. "Our fans, they come to football games just to see the band a lot of times. Everybody doesn't come for the football team, sorry to say."
For their Homecoming game this year, the Panthers played host to Lincoln. Among those who came back for the game -- and the band --the Class of 1953.
"I played in the band," said Dr. Robert Stinnett, the class president. "The band is a great thing for the student body. We follow this band around. We contribute to the band, and we think it's an important part of Prairie View's progress."
"Extracurricular programs like great marching bands bring students into the fold of the student population," said Dr. Margaret Sherrod, the director of the majorette line that performs with the Storm. "Then, once they get there, the rest of the faculty and administrators can hone in with the academic skills.
Sherrod was part of the majorette line as a Prairie View student in 1972, a group that had no real identity until Sherrod took it upon herself to jazz up the group. Her legacy are the ladies she directs today, the Black Foxes.
"A good band is one that is multifaceted," she said, "and however great the musicianship is in the band or their dance routine or whatever, there are a lot of little girls in the stands, and their brothers, and maybe their daddies that like to see a very precision, spiky dance troop, and so Mr. Edwards, through our dance program and band program, offers a multifaceted show."
Over the years, the band has received many an accolade, but maybe none so big as the invitation they just received. The Marching Storm was invited to this year's Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, but could not muster the funds. An invitation stands for 2005. The price tag: $300,000, a total the band hopes they can achieve through fundraising and donations.
When the first half ends, nary a soul leaves their seat for the restroom or the food stand. For many fans, the game is the undercard. At the half, their main event begins.
"I would like for the people to see us as not just another marching band, but as a great icon," said Dada, "as far as people look up to us when we march, and every performance we put out there is our best."
"I hope they see a band that's full of energy," said Riddick. "I hope they see a band that can play their instruments and not just look for a band marching on the field, but look for a show, look to be entertained."
Whatever the outcomes of Panther football games -- on this day, Prairie View prevailed -- there is one record that remains untarnished. The Marching Storm is undefeated.