Founded more than a century ago, the University of Arizona “Pride of Arizona” Marching Band has entertained and inspired millions.

“It’s just such a staple in the Tucson community and such an important part of the Wildcat spirit,” said Director of Athletic Bands Chad Shoopman.

Shoopman knows what the Pride of Arizona Marching Band means to the University — and the region. He is not only director but he’s a former member.

“I was a trumpet player in the Pride, I was drum major for the Pride of Arizona and then I was a grad teaching assistant for the Pride,” Shoopman explained. “It’s been a big part of my life.”

And it’s been a big part of every member of the Pride of Arizona Marching Band. The more than 270 current members are well-versed on the legacy they’re now a part of.

“The most important thing they recognize is they’re a part of a lineage that goes back to the early 1900s,” said Shoopman. “That we stand on the shoulders of those that came before us.”

The Arizona Marching Band was founded in 1902 as the U of A ROTC Band, with just 12 members.

The marching band made its first appearance at a football game in 1922.

The Arizona Marching Band gained national prominence with the addition of Jack Lee as Director of Bands in 1952.

Lee famously wrote the U of A fight song “Bear Down, Arizona” following his job interviewdrawing his inspiration from the words he saw on top of Bear Down Gym as he flew out of Tucson.

“I think we have one of the best fight songs in the country,” proclaimed Shoopman. “Our Bear Down tradition is older than Notre Dame’s ‘Win one for the Gipper’. People don’t realize that our Bear Down tradition is one of the oldest in college football.”

Jack Lee helped to grow that Bear Down tradition, not only with the fight song, but with the innovations he brought to the Arizona Marching Band.

“He wanted perfection and we did perfection,” said former Arizona Marching Band member Jerry Gay.

A trumpet player in the late 1960s, Gay was part of a marching band then known as “The Best Band in the West.”

“Big sound, that’s one thing that Jack Lee always wanted to do,” Gay remembered. “We had a big sound. When we played you could feel it.”

Arizona’s reputation as “The Best Band in the West” earned them an invitation to play at halftime of a professional football game in January of 1967.

The Arizona Marching Band has the distinction of being the first ever halftime Super Bowl act.

“Isn’t that something,” Gay said with pride.

The Arizona Marching Band was the halftime entertainment for Super Bowl I at the L.A. Coliseum.

They were joined by members of the Grambling State Marching Band as well as famous trumpet player Al Hirtwho Jerry had the chance to meet.

At one point in the performance, the bands were in formation marching toward two giant footballs.

“All of a sudden these two rocket men came out of the side and they just came up, they came around. And I couldn’t hear myself, it was that loud.”

More than 51 million people watched that halftime show on TV, adding to the legacy of the Arizona Marching Band.

“That first halftime showthat now Michael Jackson, the Rihanna’s, the Prince’s all those artiststhat’s a coveted spot in the entertainment world,” said Shoopman. “We were the first to be able to really take that spot. It’s a pretty awesome lineage.”

In 1977, the Arizona Marching Band played in the inauguration parade of President Jimmy Carter.

In 1984, Space Shuttle astronauts woke up to “Bear Down, Arizona.”

The 80s are also the decade when the marching band was given the moniker the ‘Pride of Arizona’. A fitting name, even today, according to Shoopman.

“For the Tucson community, but certainly for the whole state, that we want to be that Pride of Arizona. People are proud of us when we go represent the university and the community in everything that we do.”

As the University gets ready to move into the Big 12 Conference next year, the Pride of Arizona Marching Band is planning on wearing new uniforms next season. They are currently raising funds for those new uniforms.