Shocker Sound tuned out of student fees budget


Shocker Sound performs Feb. 27 at Charles Koch Arena.

Evan Pflugradt

Inside Charles Koch Arena, traditions begin and end with the buzz of 25 brass instruments.

The bolstering tunes of “Light em’ up,” “Go Shocks Go,” War” and a list of more than 40 fan-favorite songs ignite the roaring cheers of 10,506 fans dressed in black and yellow.

Shocker Sound, a 35-person student-run pep band, is part of the traditional game-day experience for men’s and women’s basketball games. But based on a recommendation from the Student Government Association, Shocker Sound may have sounded off for the final time this season.

“The idea has been kicked around that there may not be a band. That’s where we’re at,” athletic band director Jordan Northerns said.

On Wednesday, the Student Government Association passed a student fees budget with a recommendation of completely defunding Shocker Sound. The budget will now go to University President John Bardo for approval.

According to Student Body President Joseph Shepard, the student fees committee faced a shortfall of $320,000 for the 2016 year.

“However we shifted the money, we were going to be put in a situation where someone was not going to be funded,” Shepard said.

Northerns, a graduate assistant in his second year of directing Shocker Sound, said the group has functioned on an annual budget of nearly $90,000. The fees supported an income of a little more than $10,000 for each of the two graduate assistants, and a budget to support instrument fees, uniforms and an honorarium — payment to each player — of $30 for each game, and also $20 for practices, which Northerns said are held an average of four times each semester. Northerns added that Shocker Sound does not have a reserve fund.

The honorariums total an average cost of more than $40,000 each year and can cost up to $50,000 each year. Northerns said Shocker Sound decreased all honorariums by $5 in order to preserve funds.

In an initial proposal from the student fees committee that was rejected by Student Senate, Shocker Sound had been proposed a budget reduction of $30,000. Shepard said in the first proposal, the committee determined the most it could support the band with was an estimated total of $55,000.

“Upon conversation with [Shocker Sound], that would not have been enough to allow them to sustain,” Shepard said. “It was a lose-lose situation for us.”

Northerns agreed, stating there was no option other than to reject the proposal.

“The answer was no,” he said. “It was far too big of a cut.”

Freshman Haley Ensz, a fine arts senator, said the original proposal was for Shocker Sound to request funding from the Athletics Department, and that the student fees committee would slowly phase Shocker Sound out of their budget.

“Because we didn’t have the money, the committee thought this was the best time to make the transition,” Ensz said.

The committee decided to cut the funding completely, stating Shocker Sound would have better financial resources compared to other groups competing for funding.

“We decided it was the responsibility of the Athletics Department to fund the band,” Shepard said. “We believe Shocker Sound has resources through the Athletics Department, but also individuals in the community that will support that band full-force.”

Shepard discussed with interim athletic director Darron Boatright to work out a new proposal. Wednesday morning, Boatright discussed the new proposal with representatives from the fine arts department and members of Shocker Sound, where he announced the contribution of $20,000 in annual funding.

Ensz said she wanted to draft a new proposal after learning about the support from the Athletics Department, but was limited in time, stating she first learned the amount at 5:30 p.m., two hours before the committee was set to vote on the proposal.

“Ideally, I would have liked to have had a counter-proposal,” she said.

In the voting session, the budget passed; Ensz the lone senate member to vote against the proposal.

“I didn’t vote in favor of it for the sake of sticking with my department,” she said. “Lots of other senators didn’t want them to be completely defunded.”

In the new proposal, the budget had dropped the funding for Shocker Sound from $60,000 to $0, and that money was distributed to fund OrgSync, Baja SAE and Microcosmos, among other student fees-funded organizations.

Of Northerns’s concerns for the future of Shocker Sound, his top concern was whether the program would continue to support a graduate assistant to replace him as he prepares for graduation in May.

“Right now, because our budget is in jeopardy, we cannot find graduate students to fill my position, which is something we’d be doing right now,” Northerns said. “It’s sort of in limbo, and it has put us in a hard place.”

Northerns returned to school two years ago, which he said has always been a life-long dream. He said other opportunities, such as online programs, would have allowed him to earn a similar degree, but financially didn’t know if things would work out, or if the online setting would benefit him.

“I wanted to be fully immersed in the position,” he said.

Ensz said the main disappointment in the decision was finding out they would no longer be financially supporting new graduate assistants to run the program. Ensz said she had conversations with the potential replacement for Northerns, and based on the conversation, she wasn’t sure whether or not he’d be able to continue his education.

“He was really concerned,” Ensz said. “Being a graduate assistant for Shocker Sound is the only way he can attend graduate school next year, not having that position available means he won’t be able to attend the university.”

Northerns said he anxiously awaits the decision on whether the position will be funded or dissolved.

“They have to make plans,” he said. “They cannot wait forever.”

In the month preceding the student committee’s vote, Northerns met with Bardo while traveling with the NCAA Tournament in March. Northerns presented Bardo with a letter addressing the financial crisis, and also attached letters from current and former Shocker Sound members.

One letter came from 2015 graduate alumna Mitchell Crow, who played in Shocker Sound from 2010 through 2015 while he earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering.

“Participating in Shocker Sound has been the most influential, rewarding and memorable experience I at Wichita State University,” Crow said in the letter.

The highlight of his experience, as for most members in the program, came in 2013 when Shocker Sound competed in the Battle of the Bands competition during the Final Four in Atlanta, Georgia. WSU won the contest.

In the letter, Crow also thanked the graduate assistants for pushing him to his limits, challenging him to be a leader and providing him the opportunity to be part of something bigger than himself.

“Players really feel like they have a profound affect on the game, the fans and the experience,” Northerns said. “And I think they do.

“It goes beyond playing music, loving basketball or anything like that. Shocker Sound is something more.”

Thursday, Bardo stated intent to request funding from the Kansas Board of Regents.

“The Student Government Association wrestled with a difficult budget and I plan to accept its funding recommendations for student organization,” he said in a university release. “However, Shocker Sound has become an important part of the university experience for both participants and spectators at athletic events, so I plan to ask the Kansas Board of Regents to include Shocker Sound funding as a very small addition to student athletic fees.”

For the future of Shocker Sound, the answer will be waiting.

“I do believe that when it comes down to it, President Bardo is not going to let that band die,” Shepard said. “He’s going to protect that band, and be sure they sustain.”