Dr. Frank Tracz sits in a chair that faces a large Bill Snyder painting across the room in the corner fifth-story suite at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. Tracz, who since 1993 has served as professor of music and director of bands at Kansas State, shares a story about his favorite legendary head football coach.
“I remember one time we lost in a big rainstorm and Coach Snyder came over to the band while we played the fight song as the team ran off the field,” Tracz says. “My assistant grabbed my shirt and said, ‘Coach is coming over here.’ I thought, ‘Uh-oh, what did we do?’ He came over and thanked us for being there. He said, ‘We’re going to be better prepared next week. Just hang in there with us.’ I said, ‘Coach, did you hear the band today? We stunk, too. We’ll practice hard and we’ll be back next week.’ He laughed, gave a hug, and blew kisses to the band.
“Coach Snyder is the reason. I was in The Ohio State band when Woody Hayes was there. I remember that type of dedication. When Snyder came in, he set the tone for everybody. I learned a ton from him. What football coach comes over and shakes the band director’s hand? There’s sincerity that’s unusual. His famous left-hand slanted purple-penned notes we get all the time? We framed them and now they’re faded. But my point is this, that kind of thing sets the tone for what this is all about. I give Coach Snyder 98% credit for this band. He won football games, kids wanted to be here, and we had fun in the stands.”
“And now we’re getting a home, a building for the band. I can’t put it into words. It’s incredible.”
On December 15, the Kansas Board of Regents approved K-State’s request to name its new band hall the “Tracz Family Band Hall,” made possible by a gift from Ward and Brenda Morgan, who have supported a variety of programs at K-State from athletics to McCain Auditorium to the College of Business Administration. Ward graduated from K-State in 1993 with a degree in management. The love for the K-State marching band inspired the Morgans, who live in Manhattan, to give to the band hall project, and to name the band hall, which will be located on the northwest side of Memorial Stadium.
The Morgan’s gift, along with other philanthropic support, will fund the renovation, which is expected to begin in spring 2022 and be completed by the end of the year.
“We set up a lunch with the Morgans and then I gave them a tour of the facility,” Tracz says. “That’s when they told me they were going to do this. I gave Brenda a hug and said, ‘The Morgan Band Hall is going to be the best building on campus. We’ll take care of it.’ She said, ‘That’s not what we want to name it.’ When someone tells you that, you don’t know how to respond. They’re putting your name on a building for crying out loud. I still can’t grasp it. Probably when I see it, it’ll hit home. At the time, I gave her a hug and didn’t know what to say. How do you say thank you to something like that?”
Since Tracz arrived at K-State in 1993, the Pride of Wildcat Land, the marching band has steadily grown to include 400 members, featuring Classy Cats, color guard, twirlers, drum line, Cat bands, volleyball band and pub crawl band. The Pride represents K-State, the city and community of Manhattan, and the state of Kansas each year at home games, parades and festivals, and alumni and charity and community events.
Most recently, the Pride was the recipient of the 2015 Sudler Trophy, the most prestigious award for a college marching band, and that recognizes excellence and innovation. The Sudler Trophy is awarded to only one college band every two years.
In 2016, the Wabash Cannonball was recognized by ESPN as the greatest pre-game tradition in the Big 12.
The Pride is scheduled to depart Manhattan at midnight on January 2 and arrive in Houston at around 3 p.m. It’ll make its presence felt at the TaxAct Texas Bowl at NRG Stadium, like so many bowl games before.
“I tell kids you’re going to have an experience that you’re going to love and you’re going to hate, you’re going to sweat and freeze, you’re going to be sore, happy and sad, but when it’s over, you’re going to miss it,” Tracz says. “I tell recruits all the time, ‘These will be the best years of your life.’
“This is a success story just like football that needs to be told. With the new building, people are really realizing what we have. This is a really good program. My goal here is to keep it that way. The new building is another strong pillar for the program.”
Another important friend for the Pride of Wildcat Land has been famous alum Eric Stonestreet, who graduated from K-State in 1996, earned two Emmys as Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for his role as Cam on Modern Family, and who rolled into K-State campus to surprise the marching band with his Christmas gift — a large customized box truck — on December 23, 2017.
“The Eric Stonestreet truck is out here loading up as we speak,” Tracz says as he points on the football field at the polished silver and purple truck with the words “The Pride of Wildcat Land” written across it while a large gold trophy on the back reads “2015-2016 SUDLER TROPHY.”
“Eric is a good fan of the band,” Tracz says. “I met Eric when he was a waiter at Applebee’s many, many years ago. He told me that he was a drummer. Anyway, he’s turned into being a big band fan. He’d come back and play with the drum section. After we played one winter game, we didn’t have overcoats, so we were freezing, and he called up that night and said, ‘Where are your overcoats?’ I said, ‘We don’t have the budget for it.’ He made a large donation along with the president and we have winter overcoats now. A year later he called up in January and said, ‘How’s your Cat Band drum set?’ He got us a new DW drum set, which is the Rolls Royce of rock-and-roll drum sets.
“Then one game, right when the stadium (renovation) was complete, Eric was here and said, ‘Why did you bring that yellow ugly truck into this beautiful stadium?’ He told me to design a truck and two weeks later Eric came with his mom and dad and drove the truck with a police escort to All Faiths Chapel at 11 p.m. before we left at midnight for the bowl game. The kids suddenly realized it was a band truck and then saw that it was Eric driving the truck. He’s an amazing person. So that’s the Stonestreet Truck. That’s what we call it. We even call the overcoats Stonestreets.”
Tracz pauses again.
“It’s an amazing story,” he says. “Amazing things happen here that don’t happen anyplace else.”
A band hall was seemingly the only ingredient missing. A brochure called “A New Home for The Pride of Wildcat Land” is a quick, eight-page introduction to what will become their new world. K-State is currently the only Power Five conference school without a designated home for the marching band. There is no one location where the band can rehearse, store equipment and prepare for performances. Instruments, uniforms and other materials are scattered across multiple buildings around campus. Renovating the northwest side of Memorial Stadium will bring the band together in one place, providing members with a home that is safe, saves time and saves money.
The band hall will feature offices of band staff, an indoor rehearsal area for the band, Classy Cats, color guard and twirlers, one location for equipment, instruments and uniforms, and then band members can go directly outside and rehearse on the Memorial Stadium field.
“In the past year, I’ve learned the effect that we’ve had on some people and some institutions, and you don’t think about that,” Tracz says. “When I came here in 1993, I didn’t think I’d last a year. I used to come home from football games Saturday and my wife would want to unpack boxes on Sunday. I told her to hold off. I wasn’t sure this was going to work. It was difficult as any beginning is, but I’ve always had a really strong work ethic and I’m the guy who thinks if we’re down 21 points with 4 minutes left, we’re still going to win the ballgame. There’s always hope.
“I’ve learned that the things that I grew up with, the hard work and perseverance, pays off. I’ve also learned a lot about people. I’ve also learned how to fundraise and how to recruit. I’ve learned how to set up systems and how to be organized, efficient and to keep squeezing the onion until there’s no more blood in it. I’ve learned how to get as much out of things as we possibly can. I’ve learned success comes through hard work and perseverance. I’ve learned a lot from the people here, Snyder being one and Jon Wefald being another one. I’ve learned there are a ton of good people here and people that care and notice what we do.
“I’ve learned about family. You spend a lot of time here. My family understood and respected that. We sacrificed a lot. Over the years we’ve been here, there are many seven or eight Christmases I’ve been home, or that we’ve been home as a family. That’s not whining or complaining. It’s just factual. It’s a sacrifice.
“We all make decisions, and this was well worth it to see this thing through.”
The Tracz family won’t be together this Christmas in order to be cautious with the threat of COVID. Frank and Geralyn will stay in Manhattan. Jessica, a former featured twirler for the marching band, is married with one-year-old Caden and lives in Kansas City, and Carly, who played bass guitar in the Cat Band, is married and lives in Kansas City as well. Kelley lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota and is an oboe professor at Concordia University and plays in an orchestra.
“My son-in-law got COVID the day before Caden was born,” Tracz says. “He didn’t see his son until two weeks later. They’re being really careful, so we all are.”
“Right now, I’m getting a ton done. There’s a lot of building donors across the state. I’m going to take a ride and see them. We had a banquet a couple weeks ago with some donors there. We gave them some pictures. Our band members spelled the names of each donor on the football field. Some of those donors couldn’t make it to the banquet, so I’m going to drive down and give them their picture and some hugs and say thank you.
“I mean, I just can’t believe people did this for us.”
If there is a photograph that’s dear to Tracz’s heart, it’s a photograph that Snyder used in his new autobiography. Snyder is standing outside of the front steps to the Vanier Family Football Complex in December 2018. He is being serenaded by members of the marching band. They are joined by the Classy Cats, cheerleaders and color guard. Three tuba bells spell out “WE” “LOVE” “YOU.” The marching band spills into the parking lot.
“I surprised him,” Tracz says. “I walked into his office that day and he said, ‘Young man, what are you doing?’ I said, ‘Coach, you’ve got to put your jacket on and come with me.’ He came outside and I said, ‘Coach, there are some people who want to say goodbye to you.’ The whole band was there and played. It was the least we could do.”
Rising from his chair in the fifth-floor corner suite inside the stadium where it all started, Tracz walks to a countertop, unrolls paper from a clear glass mug, and presents it to a visitor. Emblazoned upon the mug is a miniature drawing of the northwest side of Memorial Stadium.
The mug reads, “Welcome Home.”