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Pep bands’ greatest hits from the soundtrack of college basketball

Ah, the sounds of a college basketball game. Sneakers squeaking on the floor. The bounce of a leather ball on polished wood. The cheers of fans. The bellow of the announcer.

Yet without the accompaniment of a pep band to give the cacophony a cadence, the experience wouldn’t be complete. Here, some top picks from the soundtracks of some college pep bands who know how to rev up crowds come tournament time.


photo: Britney Howard / University of Kentucky

The Madness: The university leads in total NCAA men’s basketball tournament appearances with 57, while appearing in 17 Final Fours and 12 Division I championship games and winning eight of those championships.

The Band: The first marching band at Kentucky dates to about 1893, an unofficial cadet band led by Herman Trost, a bandleader in Sherman’s army during the Civil War.

Pep Songs Picks: Instead of shouting the traditional “Hey” throughout “The Hey Song,” the cheerleaders, band and fans yell “C-A-T-S.”  And when the band plays “2001: A Space Odyssey Theme (Also Sprach Zarathustra),” the classical fanfare made popular by the epic 1960s science fiction film, the cheerleaders form a rotating pyramid as the school flag flies behind them. 

Northwest Missouri State

photo: Todd Weddle / Northwest Missouri State University

The Madness: The men’s basketball team has appeared in the Division II tournament 18 times and won the national title in 2017.

The Band: The Bearcat Marching Band was created in the 1920s and includes the BMB Drumline, Northwest Colorguard, Bearcat Steppers and Featured Twirlers.

Pep Songs Picks: When it’s time to celebrate a big win or playoff berth, the band turns to Kool & the Gang’s lively “Celebration.” Director of Athletic Bands Kathryn Strickland says it makes for a “big-party” atmosphere. Meanwhile, no song gets a crowd to throw up its hands up and kick up its heels like the Isley Brothers oldie, “Shout.” When the team is coming back to the court, she says, it can create a “big energy moment.”


photo: Craig Schreiner / University of Wisconsin-Whitewater

The Madness: The men’s basketball team has been the NCAA Division III champion four times since 1984.

The Band: The pep band is student-conducted.

Pep Songs Picks: The old New Orleans second-line tune “The Warhawk Strut” closes every halftime and postgame performance, while strutting fans and players “shake it to the left” and “shake it to the right.” The Warhawk Basketball Pep Band also performs the 1979 pop hit “My Sharona” at halftime during basketball games. The up-tempo, basic beat is danceable for all ages.


photo: Allison Waltz / Ashland University photo

The Madness: The school has appeared in four NCAA Division II Women’s Basketball Championship games, winning two championships since 2013.

The Band: The Eagle Marching Band is one of the most active organizations on Ashland’s campus, with 80 band members including the color guard and twirlers. The pep band, which plays at basketball games, is an extension of the marching band.

Pep Songs Picks: “The Impression That I Get,” a lively ska song by the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, adds an exciting sound at halftime, during a timeout or between the men’s and women’s basketball games. Plus, it lets the brass have some fun. Meanwhile, the Ashland dance team gets funky when the pep band plays the Bruno Mars hit “Uptown Funk.” The choreography and catchy beat bring a roar from Eagles fans.


photo: Stephen Slade / University of Connecticut

The Madness: The UConn women have appeared in the Division I women’s tournament 30 times, including 19 Women’s Final Fours and 11 championship wins. 

The Band: The school has 160 band members, separated into three traveling pep bands named after previous band directors.

Pep Songs Picks: “Tear It Up,” inspired by the Jackson 5’s “Dancing Machine,” is a “real crowd pleaser,” says Associate Director of Bands Ricardo Brown. The band relies on it when the game is tied or the Huskies pull ahead. And “Big Things Poppin’” by rapper T.I. provides momentum. The band adds a twist with hip-hop vocals — such as “Uh-oh! Who let the dogs out?”

About Champion

Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.