Since 2001, Elon’s marching band, the Fire of the Carolinas, has been a fixture on both the field and in the stands at all Elon home football games.
And though it’s hard to imagine a home game without the marching band, it has not always been this way. Before Rhodes Stadium was built, Elon went without a marching band for almost 20 years. During that period, there was a pep band that went to all the home games—which were played at Williams High School’s stadium in Burlington—but no marching band existed, says Tony Sawyer, director of the Fire of the Carolinas.
As plans for a new stadium became concrete, he says, Elon President Leo Lambert requested that a marching band be established, and thus, the Fire of the Carolinas was born.
This fall marks the band’s 10th season. To celebrate this milestone, the band will perform a fire-inspired halftime show during the first two or three home games. Sawyer wants the show to be a surprise, saying only that they will begin by playing “We Didn’t Start the Fire” by Billy Joel.
Though the program has not changed drastically since its inception, the marching band has kept adding its own traditions throughout the years, Sawyer says, from the way the band marches into the stadium and the cheers they do to always ending the school fight song with a “drum-cheer” that engages fans.
“We have a lot of new traditions,” says Sawyer. “It’s an ongoing process.”
When Sawyer took the reins of the program in 2003, the marching band had only been functioning for two years. Despite its short life, the band was well-established. Former band director Bill DeJournett had formed a band council to allow as much student involvement as possible, something Sawyer has built up on by developing a strong student leadership program.
As part of the program, Sawyer selects students to lead the different sections that make up the band: winds, percussion, colorguard and dance. These leaders then work hand-in-hand with Sawyer and the drum majors—those students who lead, command and conduct the band during performances—planning the annual summer band camp as well as other activities. The group also decides the kind of music they will play and the kind of shows they will do.
“They basically run the band,” Sawyer says. “They are very integral in how the group works.”
Though Sawyer is proud of the marching band and the new traditions it has created, he also wants the band to reconnect with its past. The history of Elon’s band program goes back 100 years. The history of the marching band per se, he says, almost goes that far back but because there were some gaps in the program along the way, the marching band had very few connection to its past.
Sawyer is trying to change that by maintaining connections with alumni who were members of past marching bands, particularly those who belonged to the Show Band of the Carolinas, which marched from 1962 to 1982. He says that program was big on campus during the 1970s.
“They had a very active program,” he says, adding that many alumni who were part of The Show Band are still in the area and have been active in past Homecoming celebrations. This year, and as the band celebrates its 10th anniversary, Sawyer says he would like to see former Fire of the Carolina band members attend Homecoming as well.
As he looks into the future, Sawyer says the challenge is always to get more students involved in the program, which counts as an academic course. He says the beauty of the marching band is that it allows 100-plus students from different disciplines and academic years to come together and keep active doing something they love.
“That’s a really exciting thing for most students,” says Sawyer, adding that besides helping students get acclimated to college life, the band is also “an easy way to connect to the spirit of campus.”
To see a video interview with Sawyer, click on the link to the right.