NUMB SpiriTeam takes purple pride to new level for homecoming

Sammy Caiola, Reporter

Look around the student section during any home football game, and you’ll find, among the sea of purple, a group of 180 that are not quite like the rest. Whether rocking their feather “shakos” hats or blaring out “Hey Baby,” the Northwestern University Marching Band is constantly sweating purple.

But what about their fearless leaders? Who are those two guys in the funny hats who dance, conduct and occasionally do push-ups?

The Current needed to know. So, we met up with McCormick sophomore Evan Gray and Weinberg senior Andrew Rothschild, who together comprise the NUMB SpiriTeam and pump the lifeblood of the band, for a Deering Library lightsaber duel and a quick chat about Wildcat pride.

The Grynder and the Spirit Leader, as Gray and Rothschild are respectively titled, are responsible for heightening the spirits of the marching band both inside and outside of the stadium, in the hopes their enthusiasm will bring the entire student section to life. It’s a heavy burden, but these guys take it on with smiles. Rothschild, a snare drum stalwart and lifelong NU fan, was elected by the entire band at the end of his sophomore football season and will hold the position until he graduates. Gray, who plays a trumpet and French horn hybrid called a mellophone, was appointed by the outgoing Grynder and will finish his term on the SpiriTeam during his senior year, at which point he will pass it down.

“The actual lore and mythology wills that the Grynder has a mutant gene in their genome that can only be identified by another Grynder,” Gray said. “That’s the goal of the audition.”

The SpiriTeam’s biggest job is to run weekly “spirit sessions,” which are Thursday night pep rallies to pump up NUMB before a game. The session starts with Rothschild’s call-and-response chant, called a “Hear Ye,” and a comedic skit that predicts the outcome of game day. Then begins an evening of band shenanigans that Gray describes as “bordering cultlike,” from “random insanities” (i.e. making a freshman publicly lick peanut butter off of a banana) to “NUMB personals”(questions and compliments submitted by one member and addressed to another, presented ceremoniously by Rothschild). The session ends when Gray performs his “grynd” (NUMB-speak for a piece of slam poetry about NU football), and the drum line files out with a rollicking closing set.

So it’s no wonder that NUMB reaches the stands in high spirits, even after waking up at 6 a.m. for a pre-game rehearsal. Most NUMBers rehearse six days a week for two to three hours per day — and that’s after the two weeks of 12-hour band camp rehearsals that precede the start of the school year.

“Being in NUMB, it’s become a part of my identity,” Rothschild said. “It’s being a part of the most passionate and hardworking student group on campus. … We all share NUMB in common and that passion and that pride and that spirit. We bring it forth in rehearsal, bring it forth in games, bring it forth any time we put on the uniform.”

Rothschild and Gray are particularly excited about Homecoming weekend, when NUMB alumni, including former SpiriTeam leaders, will come from far and wide and join the band for a halftime show.

SpiriTeam is an old, sacred post rooted in years of serious NUMB tradition. Like rubber chicken tossing. Grynder and Spirit Leader used to toss a yellow flag, Gray explained, but when a rogue throw caused an interference with the game, the flag was confiscated. In response, SpiriTeams started using a yellow chicken instead. However, this chicken is not the original — nor are the Guy Fawkes masks or the light sabers pictured here. That box of toys got lost on the bowl trip to Jacksonville last winter. Fortunately, Gray and Rothschild were able to replace all of the items in time for the 2013 season.

“Somewhere in Jacksonville someone is going to find a chest of completely random s— and be like, ‘WTF?’” Rothschild said.

Since starting as Grynder this fall, Gray said he’s become something of a campus celebrity and was recently approached by a freshman girl, who identified him as “that dude that dances at the football games” and invited him to eat at her table in Sargent dining hall. Gray said this was not an entirely inaccurate description of his day-to-day persona.

“Being on the ladder, for me, is kind of just an extension of what I would normally do,” Gray said. “I do the same dances I would have done standing in the stands last year. I just love being up there. It’s a great opportunity to completely let loose for a few hours.”

Regarding the upcoming game, Rothschild and Gray said they are counting on students to be their craziest, most spirited selves while cheering on the Cats in one of the most important games of the season.

“Go to everything,” Rothschild said. “Be loud. Be growling. Pretend for just this weekend that you don’t have class. This is the one weekend, regardless of how much you care about football, that can bring an entire university together in a way that nothing else can. Let’s show the rest of the country what NU is about, and that’s Purple Pride. Go Cats!”

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Twitter: @SamanthaCaiola