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Kolpack: NDSU pep band combines a little fun with a good product

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FARGO — As a singer in the popular local band The Front Fenders, Paul Bougie knows the value of combining a little fun with a good product. It’s no different now than when he played in the North Dakota State pep band not long after Erv Inniger took over as head men’s basketball coach.

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So the band went over the line a few times … like the time when about 15 flash cameras went off just as an opposing player was shooting a free throw.

“I think we were the only band to get a technical foul,” said Kirk Hawley, who directed the band that called itself “The Home Court Advantage.”

Or the time when about 10 tuba players got right under the basket and leaned as another player shot a free throw. Referees often had an eye on the band.

“We got warned a lot,” Bougie said. “Refs hated us, but the team loved us.”

Or the time when the band sat right behind the opposing team’s bench and played while the other team had the ball.

“The commissioner came in and made them move that night,” Inniger said.

Erv was the creator behind the band, which was part of an era that saw the Bison Sports Arena go from a yawning festival to a true, rousing, pack-it-in college basketball atmosphere. When Erv got the job in 1978, athletic director Ade Sponberg emphasized to him that basketball needs to be a revenue sport.

If Erv wasn’t a basketball coach, he would have made for an ideal minor league sports promoter. NDSU did promotions like giving out Big Macs to everybody in attendance if the Bison scored at least 100 points. The McDonalds’ restaurants were plenty busy when that happened.

To rock the house, Erv started recruiting fast-break, crowd-pleasing players like guard Jeff Askew. To literally rock the house, he turned to Hawley to get the band going.

“We were not being rude. We were just having fun,” Hawley said. “And that’s all it was. Having fun.”

About 40 members joined during the first year. By the fifth and final year Hawley directed the crew, there were 120. There were no requirements like being a music major or associated with the Gold Star Marching Band. If you could play, by all means, come on over. The NDSU music department even furnished some instruments.

Bougie said band practice was often done during basketball practice so the players were used to the noise and shenanigans.

“Erv made us feel like part of the team,” Bougie said. “We did things and were allowed to do things before everybody had to play nice. We would key off a situation. We would key off of Erv or just by watching the team. We knew what we needed to do.”

And that was to help turn a quiet BSA into a fan participation event, all the while making life tough on the opposition. Before Bison football did it with the Fargodome, Erv did it with the BSA.

Today is the last NDSU basketball game in the joint before it is gutted for a major renovation. For old time’s sake, I say to the band: Play a loud, obnoxious song while the University of Denver has the ball. It will be worth the warning.

The rebel in me says have every band member take a cell phone flash photo of a Pioneers player shooting a free throw. OK, if you do that, make sure a technical foul won’t figure into the outcome.

And you didn’t hear this from me.

Kolpack is the sports reporter at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by the Forum News Service.

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Jeff Kolpack
Jeff Kolpack covers North Dakota State athletics, the Fargo Marathon and golf for The Forum. His blog can be accessed at www.bisonmedia.areavoices.com. On the radio, Kolpack & Izzo sports talk show runs from 9-11 a.m. every Saturday morning. April through August, the WDAY Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack runs from 8-9 a.m.
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