By Joseph Garcia —

The Patrick Henry Hughes field is filled with instruments tuning and twirling flags when I arrive Friday afternoon. The rain that had dominated early afternoon was gone, leaving cool temperatures under a cloudy sky.

After weeks of practicing in scorching heat, this was well welcomed practice weather for the University of Louisville Cardinal Marching Band.

From atop of the high-rise band tower I could see it all.

Assistant Band Director Dr. Jason Cumberledge and Head Drum Major Natalie Humble took turns conducting the sections of instruments crowding around the metal ladder below me. They were practicing their numbers for the pre-game show and half-time show which included songs from the James Bond films, classic U of L fight songs and “My Old Kentucky Home.”

In the distance, the color guard practiced throwing and catching rifles and flags. And in between the madness was Steffany Lien, senior psychology major and feature twirler for the CMB.

Lien told me how she came to U of L from Lincoln, Nebraska for the band program and the open twirling position four years ago.

“I’ve decided I’m going to do a fifth year because it’s been such a great experience, why end it any sooner? I’ll be sad when it’s over,” Lien said.

“Dr. Acklin, we call her “Mama” Acklin, has this presence about her that has made this experience truly enjoyable.”

This wasn’t the only time I had heard of this mysterious “Mama” Acklin while interviewing band members either.

Junior bass drummer Laine Skaggs said, “She’s like our mother, she takes care of us, she makes sure we are okay.”

Skaggs told me one of the many ways Acklin has supported her students. “Sometimes the parking people will give us tickets, but they’re not supposed to ticket us for band practice, and so she’s like ‘I’ll figure get it figured out, don’t worry I’ll figure it out.’ She’s really like a mom to us,” she said.

While I was taking pictures from the band tower I finally got the chance to meet Acklin. From the moment I met her, she was welcoming and excited to get to work.

Acklin began telling me how proud she was of the work her students have done in such a short amount of time.

“They’ve only been practicing this for two weeks!” she said. Those two weeks of band camp started on Aug. 4 for percussion instruments and Aug. 7 for wind instruments. And it wasn’t an easy two weeks.

“The heat has been brutal, we haven’t had today at all. I’ve given water breaks every 20 minutes. We’ve had pop-up tents all over the field and telling them to get in the shade, everything,” Acklin told me.

Skaggs said, “Some of the hot days you feel like you don’t want to do anything because it’s so hot, but you just have to power through.”

It’s all about staying motivated, and for many of the students I spoke with that motivation was game day.

“Seeing the fans do the cheers, it makes it all worth it,” said Skaggs. He admitted that while there was a lot of pressure as game day creeps closer it wasn’t stopping them. “We’re getting pumped.”

Acklin leaned on the edge of the band tower and reminded them how close they really were.

“Let’s talk statistics,” she said, “One hour left of this practice and six hours next week for practice. That’s it; seven hours before we are in performance for the Notre Dame game.”

Watching the CMB run through their performance really illuminated the intensity of the work it takes to put on a show of this magnitude. And they do it at that level of energy in 90 degree weather most of the time.

“We just try to work hard and be these huge fans for U of L and have a good time while doing it,” Acklin said. “I tell them I have the best job on campus because I work with the best students on campus. It’s an honor to work hard for them and to be a part of their lives.”

Assistant editor Joseph Garcia will explore all aspects of student life this year in his new column.

Photo by Joseph Garcia // The Louisville Cardinal