In the wake of the University of Montana’s 37-7 win Saturday against rival Montana State University, UM Athletics is fielding criticism over changes to the Grizzly Marching Band’s role in the famed Brawl of the Wild football matchup.
According to an internal message leaked online this weekend, UM Athletics directed the marching band ahead of the Nov. 18 game not to perform when the Grizzlies were on defense, and to refrain from playing the team’s fight song after the Grizzlies scored. The message was widely circulated on Facebook and on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, including in a tweet from former Montana Attorney General Tim Fox accusing the UM administration of “deciding to muzzle” its marching band.
In an interview with Montana Free Press Monday, UM Director of Strategic Communications Dave Kuntz clarified the details of the situation, noting that UM Athletics’ marketing department has “complete control” over how music is played in Washington Grizzly Stadium during games. Kuntz said the marching band was told not to play its usual brief interludes before first and second downs when the Grizzlies were on defense, so that music could be played over the PA system, since the band can’t always be heard in all corners of the stadium. Kuntz added that the band did play the Griz fight song after touchdowns in typical fashion, but not after extra points, when UM Athletics opted to play Billy Idol’s “Mony Mony” over the PA instead.
One Facebook user who reposted the leaked message this weekend, Missoula resident Kathleen Kimble, drew attention to the fact that marching band musicians are “tuition-paying students” and described the decision as “sooo wrong.” Another user, Loren Marsteller, called it “patently ridiculous,” urging others with marching band experience to reach out to UM Athletics.
Kuntz acknowledged the outpouring of concern from students and community members, and said campus leaders are treating the situation as “a learning opportunity” to improve communication between all entities involved “going into these playoffs games.” He added that the Grizzly Marching Band will continue to have “a critical role, a central role” in future UM football games.
“More than anything, people are really passionate about the Grizzly marching band and the opportunity it provides to students,” Kuntz said. “We’ve been spending a lot of time today setting the record straight and reaffirming the University’s commitment to the marching band.”
Grizzly Marching Band Director Kevin Griggs declined to comment on the situation until after the band’s leadership has had a chance to meet with UM Athletics.
On Monday, UM Athletics Director Kent Haslam issued a statement via X claiming the leaked communication included “false information” and documenting the changes Kuntz shared with MTFP. Haslam also noted that a UM Athletics employee communicated the changes to Griggs “at 1:30 a.m. Saturday via email,” adding that the changes “should have been communicated earlier in the week” and noting that “an apology has been made.” In his statement, Haslam said the changes were “for Saturday’s game only.”
For Grizzly Marching Band alumnus Ashley Barber, those last-minute changes weren’t the only catalyst for concern. In an interview with MTFP, Barber said he was “shocked and disappointed” to hear one week earlier of the cancellation of a longstanding mutual appearance by the opposing school’s marching band — a move reportedly made to accommodate a new ticketing agreement between UM and MSU for season ticket holders. Barber, who now works as an animation executive in Los Angeles and continues to organize an annual Brawl of the Wild watch party for fellow UM fans, recalled traveling to MSU twice during his 2006-2009 tenure with the Grizzly Marching Band.
“The Brawl of The Wild is not just a rivalry between the football teams,” Barber said. “It’s a rivalry on so many levels, including the marching bands. So that was the first thing where I was like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe that this time-honored tradition is going away.”
Barber was further disappointed Sunday morning to learn of the reduced playing time of the marching band at the game, which he said was purportedly done in order to “pump up the crowd” with “canned music.” Barber channeled those concerns this week into a change.org petition calling on UM Athletics to “reverse this decision” — a petition that has since attracted more than 3,800 signatures. Barber acknowledged the statements from UM officials attempting to reaffirm the university’s commitment to the marching band. He said he hopes the petition will help convince the university to “go back to normal,” and perhaps make changes to the stadium that might strengthen the presence of student musicians who dedicate considerable time to preparing for a game.
“They have to be proficient on their instrument to join the marching band, and then let’s talk about all the training to march, to move around to the music — hundreds of hours in preparation,” Barber said. “To then take that experience away from them as a student attending a student event, it just seems asinine to me.”
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