LINCOLN PARK — The basketball game had reached triple overtime this month at Peoria Civic Center and Lincoln Park High School had been playing all day.
But the Lions, sweaty and worn out, weren’t on the court — they were in the stands.
The LPHS pep band was among 10 high schools from across the state tabbed to perform this year at the IHSA boys state basketball tournament.
“Triple overtime and the band is still here playing and entertaining the crowd,” said Lise Gilly, the school’s band director and Performing Arts Department chair.
Senior Zachary Moore said there’s an extra oomph to playing before raucous crowd of several thousand people.
“I knew we had eligibility to go to Peoria and a lot of my friends were joining the band, so that just added another level of excitement,” he said.
LPHS auditioned for the prized gig late last year. They put together a five-minute recording and sent it to the IHSA selection committee, to which Gilly once belonged.
“You’ve got a lot of people in that one room, so there’s a lot of pressure to get it right,” said Roger Dekind, a clarinetist and recent LPHS graduate.
The school took 32 students — a drum set, three marching percussionists and an amalgam of wind instruments — and played throughout the day.
LPHS played four games, totaling more than 10 hours, save for a short dinner break.
“It’s pretty grueling for young students,” Gilly said of the band. “You have to bring your A-game the whole time. Everybody’s watching us. Everybody hears us.”
The biggest change, band members said, was not playing in favor of either team.
“We have to be neutral,” said senior percussionist Yareth Cucio. “It’s different.”
The band usually plays on the school’s home floor, where they lean on a mix of ‘70s classics and modern mainstays, including Daft Punk and Bruno Mars.
While the band supports the Lions, they also use the tunes to help build momentum and sometimes distract the team’s opponent.
“That’s part of the point,” said LPHS Principal Michael Boraz.
Cucio, who made the trip as a sophomore, said she didn’t know what to expect her first time at the tournament.
“It was nerve-racking. But once we got here and set everything up, I really enjoyed it,” she said.
Moore, who plays the cymbals in pep band, but also moonlights as a bassoonist, spends six to eight hours a week practicing music.
“It’s really about being dedicated and being part of a family and having fun,” he said.
The trip was funded an anonymous $20,000 donation geared toward the arts.
“At a time when many schools are cutting their music programs, our pep band’s success is a testament to our music teachers,” Boraz said.
Dekind, now a Roosevelt University student majoring in music education, said while the trips downstate were always fun, it taught him that music transcends venue.
“It showed me that music is an opportunity oftentimes to connect emotionally for people who don’t have anything else,” he said. “That’s big.”