SLU band is soundtrack to victorious Lions’ season

The Spirit of the Southland

It happens at the end of every football game.

The Spirit of the Southland plays the alma mater, then waits for the week’s conductor to lead Southeastern Louisiana University’s fight song.

Sometimes the conductor is the quarterback, other times a running back, maybe even a defensive player. Whoever made the big play that day will be chosen.

The Southeastern Louisiana University Lions made lots of big plays in their history-making 10-2 season to win the Southland Conference. The Lions will face Sam Houston State University in a playoff game at 7 p.m. Saturday at home in Strawberry Stadium in Hammond.

And Southeastern’s marching band will be there to do its part to ensure a victory.

“This has been a great season,” Shari Mahler says. “(Head fooball) Coach (Ron) Roberts said at the beginning of the year that there was something special about this team, and he was right.”

Mahler is a senior from Destrehan majoring in music education. She also is one of the band’s two drum majors. The other is Jonathan Lyons.

“This is my second year as drum major,” she says. “I played piccolo before I was drum major. I’ve been in the band for five years, and this football season has been the best.”

Paul Frechou agrees. He’s the school’s associate director of bands, as well as director of the marching band.

“This season has been phenomenal,” he says.

“And it’s been so great to see the crowd in the stadium grow every week,” Mahler adds. “We kept the spirit up among them with our downs songs and fight songs.”

Not to mention a halftime show featuring a jazz funeral. It happened at Southeastern’s Nov. 16 game, also against Sam Houston State. The football field was transformed into a cemetery with headstones representing all of the teams demolished by the Lions during the season. And the band made a final dig with its New Orleans-style jazz funeral.

The Lions beat Sam Houston 34-21.

The band will be in the stands doing its best to push the Lions to victory again Saturday. Mahler earlier had mentioned the downs cheers. This is where the band plays a short song for every down.

LSU fans are familiar with this. There’s a song for first down, second, third and when the defense forces the opponent into a fourth down situation.

“The bigger the crowd has become this season, the better the response has become to the downs songs,” she says.

The band also traditionally leads the football team on the Lions’ Walk to Strawberry Stadium before making its own official entrance.

That’s when the energy level starts rising. The band runs onto the field and spells out “LIONS,” then brings in the cheerleaders for the “Green and Gold” fight song. Next comes the pregame show’s jazz section, beginning with “A Closer Walk,” then “House of the Rising Sun” and finally a call and response with the crowd with “Little Liza Jane.”

“This year, the crowd has gone crazy when we did our pregame show,” Mahler says.

And the band plans to keep them cheering.

“The kids have been so excited about this season,” Frechou says. “They’ve performed well and kept the spirit up in the stadium. And a winning football season is a great recruiting tool for the band as well as the team. We look forward to the playoffs.”

It’s Mahler’s hope the Lions will walk away with a win.

“We’ve already shredded Sam Houston State once this season,” she says. “I think the team can win again and move on to the next game.”

But before moving on, the band will observe yet another victory tradition, where the game’s key player is invited into the stands to conduct the Spirit of the Southland as it plays the “Green and Gold” fight song.

“We help him a little,” Mahler says, laughing. “We usually count it off for him in the beginning, and he does all the conducting after that.”

It’s one of those moments where the band and football team connect. And everyone who knows the words to the fight song sings:

“Cheer for Southeastern’s noble Gold and Green

“Cheer our team on to victory

“We’ve got to play this game to win the day

“We’ve got to play hard, get in there and make it pay

“It’s time to fight on to a victory

“Stand up and roar with all your might

“Go! Go! Lions, go!

“Get out and fight, fight, fight!