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Founding Pep Band Member Graduating with Great Satisfaction

Samantha Zimmerman Saw the Band Evolve from a Dream  Samantha Zimmerman recalls back in 2017 seeking out musically inclined fellow students with the intent of starting a pep band at Wilmington College. Today, only weeks from graduating, her dream is a reality — and then some. PICTURED: Samantha Zimmerman plays the trombone during a 2020 basketball game. She also directed the pep band when the opportunity arose. The Quaker Thunder Pep Band finished the year, albeit prematurely due to the COVID-19 crisis, with 32 members. In presenting her funding appeal for an emerging pep band to Student Government Assn. in 2017, she and the handful of instrumental musicians — supported by members of the cheer squad and WC's mascot, Quakerman — made their point the best way they knew how, musically. "We set up sort of a mini-parade when walking into the SGA meeting for our pitch," said Zimmerman, an education major from Hudson. What that core group of musicians lacked in initial numbers, they more than made up for in enthusiasm as SGA deemed pep band an official campus organization and earmarked enough funding to bring in a part-time director. "It was actually a very fun and exciting process." Zimmerman, who plays trombone and occasionally directed the band, and Kelsey Truex, a senior agriculture major from Johnstown who plays the tuba, are the two, active founding members who will graduate this spring. Stephen Wadsack, director of athletic bands and assistant professor of music, praised the duo for their dedication to the band's success since first soliciting signatures on petitions in 2017. "Sam and Kelsey have been so willing to step in and take charge," he said, noting how Truex took on the service project of repairing and repainting music stands last fall. "When I met Sam as a candidate for the director's position, she asked about my philosophy on leadership and student ownership — that really stood out that she wanted to be so involved.," he said. "That's part of the culture and legacy of this group." Zimmerman hearkened early winter, 2018, when the pep band premiered at a Fightin' Quakers basketball game. "When we first debuted, I felt a little nervous because we were so small, but I was ultimately very proud of what we had accomplished in such a small amount of time with the little resources we had," she said. "I think the band began to grow because people started noticing how much fun we had at games." Indeed, the band's enthusiasm was contagious as boisterous student cheering sections complemented and embraced the pep band's school spirit. While initially small in number, the fearless group belted out popular numbers like "Tequila," "Hang on Sloopy!" and "Hey Baby (I Wanna Know If You Will Be My Girl)," which continue as favorite performance staples. Wadsack inherited only about five members when he arrived in fall 2018. He built the numbers through football season and the 2019 basketball campaign to 16 last spring. The College recognized the value of the program and offered $1,000 Talent Awards to members, a move that aided Wadsack's recruitment efforts, which has included inviting area high school band members to join Quaker Thunder in playing at a late-season game each of the past two years. While he looked to fall 2019 with a goal of 25 members, the band started football season with as many as 40 musicians. Wadsack noted that some left the group after realizing the "significant time commitment," yet, for the most part, they have stayed as students at WC. He said being a member of the band takes a level of commitment similar to that of students engaged in college athletics, theatre productions and other co-curricular activities with high expectations. "Our goal is to bring in 20 to 25 new members for fall 2020," he said, numbers that would put the band at nearly 50. The band will lose to graduation Zimmerman, Truex and Brandon Ford, the latter of whom joined later and created a lot of energy emanating from his drum set. "We're going to miss them a lot," Wadsack said. "They each brought their own brand of leadership." As seniors prepare to leave, others have already stepped up. Wadsack cited freshman Hunter Stewart, an education major from West Liberty. He is a bass drum player who has already made his high level of band ownership known. He organized a bake sale than brought in $1,000 for instruments and he spearheaded an SGA-endorsed plan to enhance the student cheering section at basketball games and get the Communication Arts Dept. more involved via livestreaming many games with a trio of cameras on WCTV. Stewart also secured a spotlight used when announcing WC's starting lineups. "He plays the National Anthem with the band and then sprints across the gym to run the spotlight for the player introductions," Wadsack said. "When new freshmen come to campus, we want to instill that this is what we do so it's easier for them to participate right from the start." "It's great having students like Hunter who take the initiative and are so thoughtful," he added. The COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the College to finish the semester in an online mode, robbed the band of its swansong performance, the annual Spring Concert. Yet, Zimmerman is able to reflect upon all that has been achieved in less than three years. "I feel accomplished in what I helped create," she said. "There is some sadness knowing I can't really be involved as a member anymore, but I am definitely hopeful for the future of the Quaker Thunder!"