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UMES' pep band personifies ‘Hawk Pride’

  • Thursday, March 12, 2020
    Malachi Johnson, class of 2016

    Popular music's best-selling acts a decade ago included Eminem, Taylor Swift, Lady Antebellum, Drake and Susan Boyle. 

    Remember Susan Boyle?

    The year 2010 also marked the launch of a new musical group that's never made the charts but is just as popular with UMES faithful - the pep band affectionately dubbed the “Thunderin' Hawks.” 

    At the university's February 2020 homecoming basketball doubleheader, a dozen or so of the pioneering musicians who gave the Thunderin' Hawks life “sat in” with current members to celebrate the pep band's 10th anniversary. 

    “A bunch of us thought 10 years was a good time to come back, celebrate homecoming and check up on each other,” 2016 alum Malachi Johnson said. 

    2017 alumna Milan Williams, a trumpeter, said, “I didn't know what 'Hawk Pride' meant until I got in the band.  It was one of the best decisions I made when I was a student here.” 

    Starting a pep band was a personal initiative of alumnus Jesse Williams, who served for many years as chairman of the university's Board of Visitors.  The basketball court in the Hytche Athletic Center is named in his honor. 

    Williams, who played basketball for Maryland State College in the late 1950s and early 60s, is a long-time season ticket holder who loyally attends the annual Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament.  The tournament atmosphere, Williams said, is greatly enhanced by bands that support league members during games. UMES lacked that ingredient.

    Sean Woods (2014) & Milan Williams (2017)

    So Williams spearheaded a campaign to raise money that was used to equip musicians with instruments who could play jaunty tunes - including the ubiquitous ESPN SportsCenter theme - in hopes the band would fire up the UMES fans and inspire both basketball teams. 

    Over the years, the band occasionally expanded its repertoire to include on-court performances and represent the university in local parades.  While some band members have been music majors, most are former high school musicians looking for an extracurricular activity in college to keep their playing chops sharp. 

    “I can honestly say (being in the band) helped me focus as a student,” said Williams, a self-employed health & wellness business owner. 

    Johnson, who plays tuba, said being a Thunderin' Hawk “shaped my college experience." 

    “It gave me a sense of belonging, and pride in this school,” said Johnson, an audiovisual technician for the U.S. Department of Transportation and aspiring filmmaker. 

    Fellow tuba player Sean Woods (Class of 2014) said he thought “it would be kinda cool to come back and pick up my horn.” 

    As a founding member of the pep band, Woods, an elementary school teacher in Prince George's County, said he draws satisfaction knowing he was “able to start something positive for this university.”