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HBCU Gameday Exclusive: Halftime Matters in Band of The Year

HBCU Gameday finds out why halftime, not what happens in the stands, will determine the ESPN Band of The Year competition.

ESPN’s inaugural Band of The Year Competition is less than two months away, and many are eagerly anticipating the awarding of two HBCU national championship trophies.

The Division I trophy will be named after long-time Florida A&M Director of Bands Dr. William P. Foster.

The Division II trophy will be named after Nathaniel Clark Smith. Smith was a famous composer solicited by President Teddy Roosevelt to lead the band at Tuskegee Institute in 1905.

HBCU Gameday’s Steven J. Gaither sat down with Executive Producer Don Roberts as well as Co-Chairs Professor Dowell Taylor and Dr. Julian White to discuss the focus of the Band of The Year event. The extensive conversation took on several topics, including why HBCU marching bands are only being graded for their halftime performances.

Halftime vs. Fifth Quarter Don Roberts — Executive Producer of Band of The Year

This adjudication is about making halftime relevant, staying relevant, and some people even think if you read a lot of the blogs that are out there that, you know, halftime is not as important.

Our focus is going to be on halftime. ESPN has dedicated itself to showing HBCU bands at halftime.

We love the Zero and the Fifth, but this particular band of the year, you got to show it on the field. You got to show what you can do on the field. We’re going to do a fifth quarter at the end. The band is just going to stay in the tradition. However, the points will count at halftime. 

Professor Dowell Taylor — Band Director Emeritus, Jackson State Band/ BOTY Co-Chair

I’ve always told my staff that halftime is number one. Zero Quarter will come and it’ll go. Fifth Quarter will come and they’ll talk about it on social media and it’ll leave. But what you do at halftime will be there and it’s important that you use that opportunity to display all of the technical facilities of your group. Our bands are unique, HBCU bands are unique. We can play Rachmaninoff, we can play Verdi, we can play Puccini. But our genre of choice is popular music of today and yesterday. That does not give us the license to bastardize that music. We still must be committed to the basic elements of good musicianship, and I put half times at a high level of significance when it comes to marching band pageantry or the gameday experience. Halftime is it for me. I do that other stuff, but halftime is it for me.

Dr. Julian White — Director Emeritus, Florida A&M/ BOTY Co-Chair

The essence of the show, what happens to the football game is the first quarter, the second quarter, the halftime show for the marching band and then the third quarter, the fourth quarter. The fifth quarter or zero —  first of all, you lose it a lot because more than half the people leave the stadium at the end of the fourth quarter or actually sometimes in the beginning and even more sometimes after the band’s finished, they leave.  

And so the Zero quarter, you can’t really play with too much because they get ready for the Star-Spangled Banner, their line up the field, this kind of thing. But the halftime show is it.  This is where you display all of this talent. This is where you display your variety of drills, of execution that you do for people to enjoy. And so sometimes we get out of place and I’ve heard students say, well, you know, you can your band can win the halftime show, but you’re not going to win the Zero or the Fifth quarter.

Well, that doesn’t matter to me because I’m not competing for the Fifth Quarter and the Zero Quarter. I’m on for the halftime show. I’m on to give the people a show so that when they leave that football game, they want more. They want more of that halftime show, they want to see all the kind of animation where we have cars moving down the field.

We have airplanes moving on the field with smoke coming out. Now we have states outlines and all these kind of things. That creates an interest in the eye of the beholder, which is the audience. The other thing, too is that with halftime shows, many of our bands start to become boring at halftime. That’s why we see coaches call a reporter. The NFL report, all these kind of because the producers said, ‘look, we’re not getting anything out of halftime shows. The show is boring, all they’re showing are majorettes and this kind of thing. So let’s go to Coach’s Corner and then they start to generate revenue.’

And so bands are out the halftime show now when they do solicit halftime shows and they’ll play in an HBCU many of the schools will say because we’re having a college band now playing PWI Institutions.

The ESPN Band of the Year —they don’t want to do anything about Zero Quarter or Fifth quarter. They want to see what the band can do on the field at halftime because halftime is the essence of what the game is about with the halftime show.

The 2023 Band of The Year championship will take place on Dec. 15, 2023 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA.