Junior Jays rock Omaha for the Dukes

Courtesy of Paul Ketchen | The Creighton Prep Junior Jays played for an arena that seats nearly 18,000 fans, getting to skip school and watch a March Madness game. Other fans in attendance said the preparatory students were the loudest Duke supporters in attendance.

Spencer Thomas | Sports Editor

This story was updated April 3, 11:17 p.m.

When the Duquesne fight song played prior to the Dukes’ Round of 64 victory in March Madness, the melody was the same, but the musicians weren’t.

The Creighton Preparatory School in Omaha lent Duquesne their Junior Jays Pep Band for the weekend, sending the ensemble courtside to perform and cheer on behalf of the Dukes.

This is a frequent occurrence in March for schools like Duquesne that don’t have a pep band large enough to send to games. Last year, Fairleigh Dickinson University borrowed the University of Dayton Pep Band for their games in Columbus, Ohio, but the collegiate musicians were used to that sort of audience. For the Junior Jays, though, this was their largest stage ever.

And so, on Thursday morning, over two dozen high schoolers played hooky, lugged their equipment down the tunnel of CHI Health Arena and created an atmosphere befitting Duquesne’s historic season in a stadium that seats 17,650 fans.

“It made us feel really important,” tuba player Patrick McFall said. “Just having a little part of it means a lot.”

Paul Ketchen, Creighton’s Director of Bands and Instrumental Music, said the opportunity came via Creighton University, the hosting school.

The Junior Jays had played occasional volleyball and basketball games for Creighton while the college band was gone on breaks, so when Duquesne told their hosts they were looking for a band, Ketchen scrapped that week’s plans and waited to surprise the bandsmen when they arrived at rehearsal.

Students walked in and saw pep band tunes on their stands, which was a surprise considering their season was supposed to have been over. When they heard the news, they were ecstatic.

“I honestly didn’t believe it at first,” said trumpet player Ryan Eichele. “I’ve always watched March Madness, but I’ve never got a chance to actually attend a game.”

In just a couple hours of practice, Ketchen taught them the Duquesne fight song and refreshed them on some crowd pleasers to entertain Duquesne’s traveling fans.

“It was a feeling of ‘making it’ of sorts,” McFall said. “We’re like big dogs now.”

The high-stakes performance was one that they felt brought out the best in their music.

“I personally had to step back more than once and process the fact that we even had an opportunity like this,” said percussion leader Andrew Tran. “The energy of the band was the highest I have ever seen it, and I could tell they were enjoying it just as much as I was.”

Wearing their brand-new Duquesne merch, the Junior Jays got to experience one of the greatest days in school history as honorary college students.

“It was very eye-opening, the experiences that college band students probably experience on a weekly basis,” McFall said. “The energy, the size of the crowd, it’s just another level of performing.”

Eichele said that the band drew from their experiences in the “Bird Cage,” their school’s home gym, to cheer on the Dukes. Fans and media alike said that the band were some of the loudest fans in the stadium.

“I loved just being there with all my classmates, all my bandmates,” Eichele said, “in this incredibly electric atmosphere.”

“They had the time of their lives,” Ketchen said. “This really is a once in a lifetime opportunity. So, they really appreciated it.”

Unlike most of the bands that they shared the stage with, Creighton Prep’s doesn’t require members to audition. They brought everyone they could, from tubas to flutes. They got to dip their feet in the college experience with a small school 836 miles away that now holds a special place in all their hearts.

“I’ve just been singing the fight song in my head all day,” Ketchen said. “It’s so much fun. I think after this gig, I’ll still be rooting for Duquesne for sure.

Dylan Fister | Staff Photographer | from left to right: Jacob Finney, senior, and Peter Beyer, junior, performed the Duquesne fight song along with their band members of the Creighton Prep Junior Jays, and cheered on the Dukes who they said they would continue to root for, even after March Madness.