As the Bloomington High School band marches at halftime of home football games, there are trumpet players, tuba players, saxophonists, flutists — you name it — decked out in spiffy uniforms.
Trombone player Mark Marshall is in uniform as well. His just has a number on it.
A big “75” adorns the front and back of Marshall’s football jersey as he belts out tunes with the same vigor he uses to ward off defensive linemen. You see, Marshall is BHS’ starting center.
The 5-foot-9, 240-pound junior removes his helmet for the halftime performance. Everything else, even his shoulder pads, stays in place.
“If I had any other instrument it would be a little different,” Marshall said, smiling. “But the trombone actually sits on my pads, so it kind of helps me out.”
There is a bit more involved for reserve senior tight end Jesus Gonzalez. A member of the drum line, Gonzalez removes his shoulder pads and jersey, slips on the harness for his snare drum, changes into gym shoes and puts on his eyeglasses.
Then he’s ready to roll.
Some coaches would have none of this football/band double duty … at least in regard to performing at halftime. BHS football coach Joe Walters gave his blessing last year upon arriving as head coach from Peoria Notre Dame.
“Every place I’ve been we’ve done it,” Walters said. “My daughter was a drum major at (Peoria) Notre Dame. All of her friends who played football were in the band. When I got there they said, ‘Can we march at halftime?’ I said, ‘I guess so.’
“My daughter can play like 18 instruments. My wife was a band person. I have a lot of band in my family.”
It should be noted the football/band double happens at other schools. We’re not breaking new ground here. It's just been a while at BHS.
Max Chernick, in his 13th year as band director, said former tight end Charlie Schmelzer, son of then-head coach Rigo Schmelzer, was in the band but did not perform at halftime.
Last year was the first in Chernick’s tenure with football players marching at the half.
“It was Coach Joe’s doing. He recognized the importance of kids getting to perform as part of the activity,” Chernick said. “He’s been very supportive of the amount of work our band kids put in and what they bring to the football atmosphere at our stadium.
“I can attest to the fact both of the varsity football players in band are very passionate and very committed to both activities.”
Monday, football practice ended around 6 p.m. on the grass area next to the stadium. The band was beginning practice on Fred Carlton Field.
Marshall and Gonzalez hustled back into the school, changed clothes and, instruments in tow, came back out for band practice, which wrapped up around 8:30 p.m.
In the preseason, when they weren’t in two-a-day football workouts, they were at band practice.
“It’s a lot to do,” Gonzalez said. “But I love both things. It’s totally worth it.”
Gonzalez has been playing the drums since he was 2. Marshall began playing the trombone in fourth grade and also can play the baritone and trumpet.
Marshall said his parents, Mark and Rebecca, both sing. He inherited a love of music and does not find the halftime performances draining.
"It gets me pumped up,” he said. “When I get out on the field most of the low brass (players) are like, ‘Let’s go. Let’s do this.’”
As soon as the performance ends, Marshall hands off his trombone and runs into the locker room under the stands.
Typically, there are about five minutes left of halftime.
“I run in there and Coach is like, ‘Calm down, sit down, drink water,’” Marshall said. “He talks to me and makes sure I know what’s going on and if there are any changes that need to be made.”
“He pays the price (to do both),” Walters said. “If he came out lazy in the second half it would be a different story, but he pays the price.”
That’s a key in all of this. Marshall’s play has not suffered. Walters is quick to point out his teams have never lost a game because players marched at halftime.
He sees value in them being part of what Chernick considers a true representation of the school.
“We have kids in their cheerleading outfits and dance team members and homecoming courts march with us,” he said. “We’re the perfect melting pot.”
Gonzalez and Marshall will tell you it is a lot of work, yet “both (football and band) are a lot of fun,” Marshall said.
“If you get good sleep and eat well, you’ll be fine,” he said.
Play on, No. 75.