December 20, 2002
Cathedral grad 'guards' Big Bass Drum at Sun BowlWEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. Only one musician in the 340-member Purdue University "All-American" Marching Band will take a 500 pound instrument to the Dec. 31 Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas Indianapolis Cathedral High School grad and Purdue senior Rob Ballard.
For three years, Purdue's tradition-rich Big Bass Drum has been Ballard's constant companion on football game days. As captain of the drum squad, he's run countless laps of the 100-yard field at full tilt pushing the monster drum, has learned flashy kick steps that take him high in the air as he beats it, and has protected the Purdue icon from friendly fans as well as those who would seek to do it harm in the name of rivalry.
Purdue's 81-year-old Big Bass Drum turns into a fan magnet at bowl games. At band appearances it's common for long lines of people to form, patiently waiting to get their picture taken with the drum.
"The drum is an icon, not only of the 'All-American' Marching Band, but of the whole university," Ballard says. "It is often the first, and the last, image of the band a fan will have in their mind."
It was the drum's tradition that lured Ballard, who played trumpet and served as drum major in the Cathedral band, to pursue a spot on the drum crew. Since the drum has only one note, no music knowledge is necessary to serve on its crew. It's more important for drum crew members to be in excellent physical shape in order to push and spin the drum through special choreography built into pregame and halftime shows.
The Sun Bowl marks Ballard's last football game with the drum, and he will carry out a superstition that's followed him throughout his band career.
"Before every game I take a bit of the field grass, or dirt, and rub it on my hands before we perform," the political science and history major says. "I guess it is my way of getting a feel for where we will be performing. It has always helped my performances, but not always the outcome of the game."
Hoping for a win at the 2002 Sun Bowl, Ballard says the band can help make a difference in high-stakes football games.
"At a bowl, I feel that I am entering a place where we, the band, will make the difference in the game," Ballard says. "On these 'neutral' playing fields we have to be the loudest, the most dedicated, and the most loyal fans. We must be Boilers, no matter what, all day long."
The one thing Ballard says he would most like to see bowl fans take away from the game is the realization that the "All-American" Band is "the class of college marching bands, and that with the name Purdue comes excellence in not only academics, but music as well."
During his tenure at Purdue, Ballard also has accompanied the drum to the Outback Bowl and the Rose Bowl. His favorite bowl memory comes from California.
"In Santa Monica, while at the Rose Bowl, I was pushing the Big Bass Drum down the street, attempting to get back to the hotel, when we were pulled over by the Santa Monica police," he says. "At first I thought I was going to get some kind of ticket for blocking one lane of the street, but then I realized that the police officer only wanted to hit the drum. Naturally we let him hit the drum, and he let us continue on our way."
The "All-American" Band's schedule in El Paso includes numerous rehearsals, alumni events and a performance at a team luncheon. A pep rally for Purdue fans is being planned on Dec. 30, and they will participate in the Sun Bowl Fan Fiesta Battle of the Bands later that same day.
Although rehearsals on the road are intense, there are plenty of moments to simply have fun. This year's free-time fun includes a Texas-size steak dinner followed by karaoke at the Indian Cliffs Ranch and Cattleman's Steakhouse, an afternoon trip to Juarez, Mexico, and a night at the Graham Central Station Dance Club.
Bowl trips, with all their activities and national exposure, have a way of making band members feel special, and it starts with their arrival in El Paso on Friday, Dec. 27.
"I have always liked when we arrive at the airport. There is just something about getting off your own chartered plane and having buses waiting to whisk you away to someplace else. It makes you feel important, like a diplomat or rock star," Ballard says.
When you're in the band at a bowl game, he says, "instead of going to Purdue, you are Purdue."
CONTACT: Rob Ballard, (317) 841-1893; Kathy Matter, (765) 496-6785; firstname.lastname@example.org.NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: Ballard's parents are Bob and Mary Ellen Ballard, residents of Indianapolis' north side. Ballard can be reached at (317) 841-1893. Media interested in interviews also can contact Kathy Matter, Purdue Bands public relations director, at (765) 496-6785.
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; email@example.com