Aug. 31, 2016
Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word –
As Georgia Tech prepares to play its first football game in a foreign land, the Yellow Jackets’ cheerleaders and marching band are getting ready to make fans feel like they’re almost at home in Dublin, Ireland.
If something doesn’t look quite right with the “GT” flag Saturday when Tech plays Boston College, cut the folks some slack.
One dozen cheerleaders will travel Wednesday evening on the team’s charter flight and 145 band members will journey over on four commercial flights spanning three airlines and connecting in four different American cities.
Buzz will be there too and Tech’s mascot will run alongside another tradition when the Jackets play in the Aer Lingus Classic.
That huge flag that cheerleaders race around the field with every time Tech scores a touchdown back home in Bobby Dodd Stadium made the trip. Hopefully, it will make several rounds in Aviva Stadium.
It could be tricky, though.
That flag went overseas in the first shipment of Tech gear last week because it would not fit on the charter Wednesday with players and cheerleaders. That means it wasn’t available for practice back in Atlanta and, for as old as the tradition is, some of the cheerleaders tasked with hauling it around are new.
“The level of practice is pretty meticulous and it’s been a little tricky trying to prepare early and teach the boys how to run the flag and work with Buzz,” said cheerleading coach Katie Hodges. “We’re without it until we arrive.”
Chances are, the flag runners will be fine and it’s a good bet that cheerleaders and the band will make Tech fans feel almost like they never left Atlanta.
The cheerleaders were part of travel plans all along but the fact that the band is sending nearly three times as many members to Ireland as it might for some road games in the U.S. took some work and financial help from others.
Band director Chris Moore said Aer Lingus Classic organizers built in an “offset” to cover expenses for 50 members. The Jackets wanted to travel with more. They tend to send at least 55 – or one full charter’s worth – to domestic road games that require flying and have traveled abroad with more over the years.
Moore said they even sent 200 to play in Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day in 2000.
Trips like that one, or to New York City to play in the Macy’s Parade on Thanksgiving in 2008, on the band’s 100th anniversary/birthday, typically hit band members in their pockets and they’re paying some freight for this one.
“When we proposed the trip, we didn’t know what other kinds of funds we would be able to get and it was going to cost a couple thousand dollars each,” Moore said. “That eliminated some kids right away.”
The 372-member band has a fundraising account and some money from that went into the travel fund along with the offset and Moore solicited donations, including a sizable tip from a Tech fan choosing to remain anonymous.
“They’re all paying about $750,” he said of the travel party. “It will be a great representation for Georgia Tech. It’s about the same size band we would take to North Carolina, N.C. State or Duke [all drivable ACC games].”
Everybody’s going to be busy in Dublin, where the cheerleaders and band members will be housed at Trinity College while the football team stays in a hotel.
Soon after arriving Thursday morning, Hodges said, “we’ll practice right away with [the Goldrush] dance [team] and then with the bands,” to get ready for a 4:30 p.m. welcome parade with the Boston College band and cheerleaders and those from local high schools.
After that, the band and cheerleaders will appear again with B.C. at 6 p.m. in the Malahide Band Classic at Malahide Castle, outside of Dublin. Following a dinner break, the cheerleaders will appear at the Guinness Storehouse.
Everybody will have a little free time Friday morning, when Hodges hopes to squeeze in some golf with her husband.
All hands will be on deck for a 3 p.m. pep rally at Trinity College.
“We’ll go straight from that to Abbey Tavern and then on the Late, Late Show with Boston College to be on [local] TV,” Hodges said.
Unlike many road games, where the band is relegated to the stands and does not perform on the field, the Jackets will work on-field alongside the Boston College band in both pre-game and halftime performances.
“We’re just going to be standing still, not in any formations or spelling out GT or anything,” Moore said. “For halftime, we’re playing some music from Ireland to celebrate their independence in 1916. We’re going to spell out, ‘2016.’ It won’t really be marching; it might be more of a strolling thing.”
The cheerleaders will return to Atlanta soon after the game on the team charter, but before they go, “they’re making sure our cheerleaders have a place to shower in the stadium so we don’t have to get straight on a seven-hour flight,” Hodges said.
“Obviously, the players are using the locker room … they’ve hooked us up with what maybe is the rugby locker room.”
Band members will have free time after Saturday’s 12:30 p.m. game before returning to Atlanta on Sunday morning.
The first band group traveled to Ireland Tuesday and three more groups are going on Wednesday.
Instruments are traveling with band members and, in some cases, that generated a cost that was spread evenly among all.
“Our students are responsible for game uniforms and all instruments,” Moore said. “Whether a trumpet or bass drum, those are all going under the commercial planes. If it’s overweight or oversized, we have to pay for that.
“If you play the flute, it’s in your suitcase and you’re good. If you’re playing a bass drum, we’re making sure the kids are not out of pocket [extra] because they chose the wrong instrument.”
Plenty will be different about this trip. Cheerleaders rarely travel on a team charter, for example, although it’s not unprecedented. They’re expecting to see some familiar faces in Ireland as tales of flights filled with Tech alumni abound.
“There’s quite a bit that feels similar to a bowl game with the events around it, and the liaisons we’re working with,” Hodges said. “In talking with others . . . it sounds like we’ve traveled really well.”