The rains kept coming. Seemingly they would never stop. More than one person started talking about building an ark. The marching band practice field had turned into a sodden mess. The mud sucked shoes off, and they disappeared, never to be seen again. For the fourth day that week we would practice in the rain. The regular practice field had turned unusable, so we moved inside the track to practice, which honestly was in no better condition.
Lethargy set in. No one wanted to be there. Already soaked from the rain, we stared at 90 minutes of slogging through the muck. Since the band had a game in two days, we couldn't afford a bad rehearsal. Those in my rank, those in surrounding ranks, really everyone in the band moved with all the energy of cooling lava. After a few minutes of watching this lethargy, Mike started screaming from atop his ladder, his amplified anger echoing off the WARF building, coming back at us and giving another volley.
"What's the matter with you?" he screamed. Then again, "What's the matter with you?" He scrambled off his ladder and dashed to the 50 yard line, which you could barely discern through the puddles and mud. "Bring it in. Bring it in, now." Band members slogged toward him. He wore this intense expression. Yeah, you know the one.
"It's raining. Does that mean we pack it up and go home? Does that mean we don't work hard and give it everything we've got? We've got a game Saturday, and you'd better believe you are no where near being ready. You perform the way you practice."
He paused a moment, put his whistle in his mouth, and gave it four sharp tweets. Nobody moved except him. He marked time for eight. Then he stepped off. The band members in front of him parted as he marched toward them, his face fierce with determination. With perfect stop at the top and drive, he paraded through deep puddles. Muck covered his once white tennis shoes and leapt up his socks. With each step he tweeted the whistle, finally blowing the stop signal. At that point, in the middle of the deepest puddle, sinking into the ooze, he executed the perfect knee bow. The band howled and screamed. Drummers immediately picked up the cadence. The band started chanting. "Eat. A Rock. Eat. A Rock,"
Suddenly a body arced through the air. The guy executed a perfect belly flop next to Mike, water flying up everywhere in a perfect plume. Others dove in or marched through puddles and muck. Soon everyone looked as if they had just completed a tough mudder competition.
The whistle blew loudly. Back on his ladder, Mike picked up his microphone and yelled, "Pre-game in the tunnel. Pre-game in the tunnel."
We marched like we never had before. Every line that day was ruler straight, every rank completely covered. People executed uniform stop-at-the-top and drive into the corners with extra flash on the turns. I had never before seen such intensity. People marched with more energy, more drive, more enthusiasm than I had ever seen before, even on game days. Often primal screams broke through the wall of sound from the music we played. Mud covered everything and everyone. It was. Perfect.
On one of the most dismal days any of us had ever seen, we shared an experience none of us would ever forget.
I remember that day almost 35 years ago with vivid clarity. A little rain doesn't hurt anything. Mike taught me that. Mike also taught me another important lesson that day. He taught me that you don't always get to do things under the optimal conditions, but no matter what, you always, always give it your all. That lesson has stayed with me throughout life.
Eat. A Rock
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Mike Leckrone has influenced many lives throughout his career as Director of Bands at UW-Madison. His leadership has made the marching band the best in the country. Leckrone has instilled, passion, drive and musicianship in those who have marked time in the University of Wisconsin Marching Band. Share your story with us on Facebook.