Editor’s Note: Caleb Harris plays alto saxophone in the Pride of the South Marching Band.
When Chancellor Glenn Boyce called the members of The Pride of the South, the official marching band for the University of Mississippi, to a meeting last spring, he delivered news that members thought they would never hear: The university would commit $3.5 million toward a complete overhaul of the band practice field.
Construction on the new practice field began in late December 2022, and the field will be ready before band camp begins in August.
Since its founding in the early 1900s, the band has practiced on the same field. Over time, field conditions became more unsuitable, and lack of maintenance resulted in a field that most would consider an eyesore.
Excitement for the new field has been building for current and old members of the Pride of the South.
“I’m really excited for the new practice field,” band member Eliana Hamblin said. “I am really excited for the improvements that the Ole Miss band is going to make and … for everybody that joins the Ole Miss band next year.”
Hamblin believes the new field will attract students to join the band and contribute to the band’s overall improvement.
Interim Band Director Randy Dale said the new practice facility gives students the opportunity to contribute their best.
“(It’s) also reassuring to them that what they do is valued, for them to have the finest facility in the country,” Dale said.
Ole Miss 2010 graduate and former band member Alexis McDaniel was a key force in making the public aware of the poor field conditions that the band dealt with, as well as getting donors to give to the band.
“All I did, which was very little, was kind of squawk about it on Twitter,” McDaniel said. “And just sort of highlight, why does this SEC school have arguably the worst practice field of the entire SEC, like this is not standard.”
Through Twitter, McDaniel was able to reach Oxford locals as well as other people from different SEC schools.
She said it was about reaching out to people who not only care about the band and what it brings to the school but also tradition and college football.
“All I ever did was make people outside of that bubble aware of it,” McDaniel said.
McDaniel would even ask football fans during Ole Miss tailgating events, “Hey can you spare a few dollars for the band?”
Dale explained that a new practice field had been in the works for a few years, but he never knew whether it was possible.
“It started with the university architect here on campus, Chad Hunter, who just drew us up something one day, brought it over here and he said, ‘What would you think if the field could go through some upgrades and look a little more like this?’” Dale said.
Shortly afterward, Hunter and Dale started working together to come up with a new design.
Dale noted that the university committed some money at first, but ultimately the band had to raise a bulk of the money on their own. It would be two more years before Chancellor Boyce announced the $3.5 million needed to complete it.
Mel Morse, assistant band director at Ole Miss, said he already has seen an uptick in interest among potential recruits.
“I know that I went up into 18 schools just this semester alone, and I’ve mentioned it just about every school that I’ve been to,” Morse said. “And to see people’s eyes wide up, right? Because $5.5 million to a normal person is a ton of money.”
Morse added that other schools may have talked down the old practice field to other recruits, calling it a “dump,” but they will not be able to say that anymore.
“We’re on a more even footing with Mississippi State, Georgia and Alabama,” Morse said. “We’re going to have some of the best facilities in the SEC.”