Cheers and screams from 110,000 fans reverberate through The Big House tunnel as Sarah Shurge anxiously clasps her piccolo.
In a few moments, the University of Michigan-Dearborn sophomore will storm the field with the Michigan Marching Band (MMB) to keep the massive audience amped up before the game and entertained during halftime and post-game festivities.
“You don’t really have time to think out there,” said Shurge, a journalism major. “You just have to do it and hope you don’t mess up.”
As a UM-Dearborn student performing in MMB, the Wayne native has to schedule classes in the morning in order to allow enough time to commute to Ann Arbor Monday through Friday for afternoon practices.
It’s hard enough to balance school and marching band, so a job during the fall semester is out of the question. Money was so tight last year that Shurge only was able to participate in the band because of the generosity of a fellow church member.
This year, Eric and Paula Nemeth (’85 B.A.) stepped up to the plate. Shurge is the first recipient of a scholarship the Nemeths recently established to help UM-Dearborn students perform in MMB without the financial burden.
“I would hate to see a talented musician who would love to play in that band and make that commitment not be able to do it because they can’t afford not to work,” said Eric Nemeth, a partner at Varnum Law. “They should be able to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
The Nemeths understand how hard it is to balance school and marching band: their son performed in the drumline for four years.
“They practice as much as some of the football players, but they don’t get any of the accolades,” Eric Nemeth said. “We saw firsthand how hard they work and all the sacrifices they have to make.”
Sure, the lengthy practice sessions that occasionally run until 10 p.m. and the long commutes to and from Ann Arbor get tiresome after awhile. But for Shurge, the difficulties pale in comparison to the experience of performing in front of 110,000 fans on Saturdays at The Big House.
“Most of the time, you’re really hot because of the uniforms and your feet get tired from standing all day,” she said. “But then you get this sort of adrenaline rush after you’re done that’s impossible to explain. It’s awesome.”
This article first appeared in the Fall 2014 issue of Legacy.