The UW Marching Band actually has two logos on its uniform: a classic W on the back and a “pitchfork” logo resembling a smiley face on the front. The pitchfork is actually supposed to represent a piece of marching band equipment called a lyre, which is used to hold sheet music for a performer.
The story behind the difference between the band’s W, the university’s W and athletics’ W stems from a conference that was held in the 1990s. It is hard to imagine Madison’s big wigs getting together to talk about something they studied in kindergarten, but since then, their decisions have played an important role in the university’s image.
Having inherited a football program that was in rough shape, then-head coach Barry Alvarez wanted a new helmet logo to go along with the new era of success he was helping to create. Experts on the letter W from across the globe weighed in on the merits of over 15 different varieties of the famous character.
One of those experts happened to be Mike Leckrone, director of the UW Marching Band. Like Alvarez, Leckrone had taken over a struggling institution in 1969. At the time, the football team was on a 22-game losing streak (ouch), and the Vietnam War was making it hard to recruit young people to wear a uniform and march about.
In the following years, Leckrone turned the band around. The Fifth Quarter, sold-out spring concerts, beer commercial appearances and show-stealing performances were all traditions that helped to shape the Badger band into the phenomenon it is today. Along with these changes came a change in marching uniforms. Whereas the band had previously featured military style uniforms without logos, in the early ’70s, they began wearing the lyre and W we see today.
When it came time for an in-depth discussion of W’s in the early ’90s, Leckrone wanted to build on the band’s proud tradition of excellence and suggested their W be the university’s W. While the Motion W was selected to represent the Athletic Department and the university opted for the W crest, Leckrone wanted to keep the more musical W’s for the band.
And so the great W debate of the ’90s resulted in the three distinct W’s we see today. I hope you can watch a football game without thinking too much about the W’s you see all over, with a greater appreciation for the thought that goes into making the university a wonderful place.