Student Director Strikes Up the BVU Pep Band

BVU's Blue Steel pep band is back in action this spring performing at home athletic contests. Samantha Hays, drum major, leads the band as they fire up the crowd and the athletes.

Folks around Buena Vista University felt as if life was inching its way back to normal in recent weeks as Siebens Fieldhouse hosted winter sports activities, beginning with a women’s basketball game on Jan. 23.

Along with the game, came the familiar sounds of Blue Steel, the only pep band gracing the sidelines of the American Rivers Conference.

“I love the pep band,” says Samantha Hays, a sophomore from Carroll who puts down her flute (from concert band) to direct Blue Steel. “It’s great to be able to be at the games!”

The bulk of fall and winter sports seasons across the league were postponed this academic year due to COVID-19. Wrestling joined basketball in opening their seasons at the end of January. Track and field and tennis would soon follow, as volleyball, football, soccer, baseball, softball, golf, cheer and dance, among others, eyed starting points in February and March. The aim remains consistent: Keep students and the community as safe and as healthy as possible while returning to intercollegiate competition.

With that in mind, members of Blue Steel don masks and keep physically distanced as they play. The masks come down only long enough for musicians to pump up the players and the crowd with sets that range from, “All About That Bass” to “Final Countdown.”

“Even though my degree isn’t in music, I’m involved in the bands. I knew that in coming to BVU, I could work my way up into a leadership position and help build the marching band.”

Samantha Hays

“As a director in the first game or two, I was caught up in the energy of the game and just being there,” Hays says, “so I maybe went a little fast.”

A little fast is OK with Tiff Wurth, BVU Director of Athletic Bands. Like Hays, going a little fast while setting the musical tempo at an athletic contest sure beats the alternative: not playing at all.

“We are thrilled to be in Siebens Fieldhouse playing and helping provide the winning atmosphere we’ve come to expect with the Beavers in athletic competition,” Wurth says. “It’s also great for our students and musicians to be able to show their stuff. With every performance, we feel like we’re making strides as a band and as a community in moving closer to the other side of the pandemic.”

Being there isn’t enough, however. Hays and the musicians seek to give fans, players, and coaches a top-flight performance.

“Tiff is direct, and I love that about her,” Hays says of Wurth. “She won’t let us, as an ensemble, settle for mediocrity. She’s inspiring in that she wants us to build a band program we’re proud of. Tiff’s determination is contagious. It rubs off on all of us.”

The chance to be part of BVU’s Marching Blue, the band that resurrected marching band at BVU after more than two decades, attracted Hays to enroll as a freshman, even though she’d major in secondary education, social science, and history.

“Even though my degree isn’t in music, I’m involved in the bands,” Hays says. “I knew that in coming to BVU, I could work my way up into a leadership position and help build the marching band.”

Hays, who served as drum major three years at Kuemper Catholic High School in Carroll, was a field conductor for BVU’s Marching Blue in the fall of her freshman year. She then played flute as Wurth and members of Blue Steel performed at area high school events last winter, an activity they’ll resume once the pandemic subsides.

“It’s a great recruitment piece, being able to sit with and play with high school pep bands,” says Hays, who also gives tours for BVU Admissions.

“I often tell students about all the different roles you can enjoy at BVU,” she continues. “We’re a small, beautiful campus with a big-school array of options. I didn’t think I’d ever be a drum major as a non-music major in my first year of college. That’s the kind of experience only BVU offers.”

Beyond her band and Admissions involvement, Hays serves as Vice President of Teachers Inc. She’s a member of the BVU History Club and also toils as a BV Buddies mentor.

“I can participate in all these things and still thrive academically at BVU,” she says.