Cotton Bowl Countdown: K-State marching band looking forward to easy, exciting trip

Boarding a bus at 2:15 a.m. in Manhattan and sitting in the same seat for an eight-hour ride to Arlington, Texas might not sound like a lot of fun to you or me, but it sounds like heaven to the Kansas State marching band.

Unlike a year ago, when K-State Director of Bands Frank Tracz loaded 360 band members and cheerleaders onto several buses and took them across the country in a blizzard to New York for the Pinstripe Bowl, the pride of Wildcat land will enjoy a easy, relatively short trip to the Cotton Bowl.

“We’re not going to miss sleep for 48 hours like we did last year,” Tracz said. “We’ll be on the road for a normal eight hours instead of 31 hours.”

Wait a second, 31 hours! That’s got to be an exaggeration. No trip could take that long, right? Wrong. That was just the trip there, which didn’t end until K-State students got off the bus and pushed the buses through snow up to their hotel’s entrance.

“We got there the day the storm ended last year,” Tracz said. “We went 31 hours and a block away from the hotel we were going up hill and the buses got stuck. I said, ‘I’ll be damned if we get stuck here.’

“Kids got off and pushed the bus. They moved snow to get the buses up to the hotel. It was a test, but we passed it.”

The marching band was tested again on the way home. Instead of driving it all in a straight shot, it stopped twice along the way. First in Pennsylvania and then in Indiana.

The days in between were fun for the marching band, though. K-State students who wouldn’t normally travel to New York for any reason were there taking in the big city. Tracz said the K-State athletic department paid for everyone in the marching band to have a subway pass for their entire trip, so Tracz and his staff let the students loose and took care of their luggage and instruments in a ball room until they could get fully checked in.

(Quick aside: The athletic department also worked out a deal with the marching band for it to bus to New York instead of flying. A flight was originally planned, but athletic director John Currie offered to donate $100,000 to the band’s endowment fund if it bused instead. “It was an easy decision,” Tracz said. “He saved $100,000. We made $100,000. It was great.” And, somewhat ironically, as miserable as the bus ride was, Tracz said the band’s flight would have been turned away because of weather. Had the band opted to fly to New York, it would not have made it to the Pinstripe Bowl.)

There will be much less drama this year. Tracz said he has been to the Cotton Bowl before, and no bowl treats band and cheerleaders better.

The 424 in his travel party will be treated first class the whole way.

“This is as good a bowl game as there is for a college band and cheer team,” Tracz said. “They give you 6 minutes in pregame and 7 minutes at halftime. Lots of bowl games, you don’t even perform at halftime. It’s a college bowl game, you should include the band and cheerleaders. The Cotton Bowl does.”

That should be a good experience for them. So should be spending four days in the Dallas area before heading home. Trips like these have helped the marching band balloon in size to an all-time high of 378 members.

“The kids are thrilled about the trip,” Tracz said.

Just don’t be surprised if all the marching band talks about when it gets back is the bus ride.

Editor’s Note: On Jan. 6, the Kansas State football team will face Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl. With that in mind, I began counting down to the big game in Cowboys Stadium on Dec. 6 by attempting to write 31 blog posts in 31 days. I use the word “attempting” because I can only think of so many blog ideas at the moment. I’m confident that I can go 31 for 31, but your help is appreciated. Feel free to send a blog idea (or two) my way at