[Photo courtesy of Central Michigan Athletics]
College football boasts an atmosphere all its own – one that extends well beyond the field of play.
Scenes nationwide on autumn Saturdays are similar: the tailgates, the spirit squads, the buzz inherent with a game played just five, six, seven times at home each year. And yet, at the same time, no two universities have wholly identical Saturday scenes.
Everything around the game itself shapes college football into the special entity that it is, and Central Michigan head coach John Bonamego wants his program to embrace everything that encompasses that atmosphere – especially the band.
“That’s the only group that’s going to be there before the game, for all four games, and they’re going to be there after the game,” he said. “Rain or shine, doesn’t matter how cold or hot it gets, the band and the team are the constants you can count on will always be there.”
That’s just one similarity the coach sees in the football team and the band. Another?
“To put it mildly: They are outstanding at what they do,” he said.
In what the Chippewas head coach describes as “a small token of just how much we appreciate everything everyone does” in the CMU marching band, the football team presented band member Alex Markarian with scholarship money last season.
The scholarship money came from funds made through the Central Michigan football camp, which operate through an LLC – part of the university’s athletic department-wide move to privatized summer camps.
Bonamego and director of player personnel Ben Presnell saw an opportunity to show the football program’s gratitude with the remaining funds.
“The amount of dedication it takes to be a member of the marching band – and really, the vast majority are volunteers,” Bonamego said. “There’s not a lot of scholarship dollars that get allocated to those kids.”
A communications major, Markarian said he intended to use some of the scholarship toward his tuition.
However, in keeping with the theme of showing appreciation to the CMU marching band, Markarian had other ideas for the funds, as well.
“I’d like to donate some to the band, for equipment and stuff like that,” he said. “We have a lot of new members coming in, so there’s a lot of things to buy, a lot of things to keep in stock. [Fundraising and donations] go a long way towards that.”
From the football played between the turf lines, and the band in the bleachers, Central Michigan has a tag team that benefits the university as a whole.
To Bonamego, game days offer a “front-porch view” into the entire university landscape.
“If your front porch is very inviting, they decide to come in and look further,” he said. “When people look around [at Central Michigan], they see we have a lot of exciting and excellent things here.”
And as any ardent college football fan knows, a game day isn’t complete without the marching band. Bonamego certainly knows.
“I’ve always enjoyed the pageantry of college football,” the CMU coach said. “Our band is part of that. They add a tremendous amount of energy and enthusiasm to the game-day atmosphere. They’re a big part of the tradition to CMU football and always have been.”
A CMU wide receiver and quarterback in the mid-1980s, Bonamego has a special affinity for Chippewa game days.
Bonamego played at Central Michigan while Chippewa band director Dr. James Batcheller studied there as an undergraduate. Bonamego said they connected when the coach, then working as an NFL assistant, delivered a commencement speech at CMU.
That was in 2009. In 2015, Bonamego returned to his alma mater full-time as its head coach. He said a relationship with Batcheller “went from there.”
“We’re both very passionate about our university; very proud Chippewas,” Bonamego said.
Markarian said that pride is felt around the CMU marching band. The trombone player noted that the relationship between the football program and band took on a new, positive vibe upon Bonamego’s arrival.
“He comes and speaks to us a couple times a season,” Markarian said. “He comes out to practice to give speeches, and he really makes us feel needed out there on the field. A lot of times coming from high school, there’s a lot of underappreciation [for the band], but he does a great job making us feel needed.”
The band and football team are all part of the same formula necessary to give college football game days life.