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Why the University of Idaho marching band members are heroes in Connecticut

The University of Idaho Marching Band, wearing Yale T-shirts, performs at the NCAA Tournament game between Yale and San Diego State in Spokane, Wash., on Sunday. The band has been honored in Connecticut for filling in as Bulldogs.
Ted S. Warren
/
AP
The University of Idaho Marching Band, wearing Yale T-shirts, performs at the NCAA Tournament game between Yale and San Diego State in Spokane, Wash., on Sunday. The band has been honored in Connecticut for filling in as Bulldogs.

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont officially declared Thursday "University of Idaho Day" in his state.

To understand why, we need to go back exactly one week and several March Madness games ago, when the Yale University men's basketball team faced off against Auburn in the NCAA tournament.

Yale's marching band wasn't able to travel to the game in Spokane, Wash., due to previously scheduled spring break plans, according to ESPN. Upon hearing this, the marching band from the University of Idaho — which hosted the first two rounds of the tournament — volunteered to fill in.

"We want to help out another university," Idaho band director Spencer Martin told the Associated Press. "We want to help out another band."

He said it was an exciting opportunity for students, some of whom hadn't even finished unpacking their bags from the previous week's Big Sky Conference Tournament, and for other more junior members who wouldn't have otherwise gotten the experience.

The band held a single rehearsal on Friday morning, practicing the Yale fight song, "Bulldog," and tweaking some of its own chants to fit the occasion before boarding the bus for the 90-minute ride to Spokane.

"We put all our marbles into 'Bulldogs,' " Martin told the Yale Daily News. "There's a lot of stuff we didn't know so we were just trying to have fun with it."

The Yale spirit guard met them with T-shirts and other logo wear. Yale Athletics covered the cost of the transportation, shirts and pizza, though the band wasn't otherwise compensated.

The blue-clad band called themselves the "Vandogs," a portmanteau of the Idaho Vandals and Yale Bulldogs. They sang the Yale fight song, chanted "Handsome Dan" (the name of Yale's bulldog mascot) to distract Auburn during free throws and were on their feet cheering by the end.

No. 13-seeded Yale defeated No. 4 Auburn in a stunning upset, winning just their second NCAA tournament game in school history.

Yale coach James Jones said in a post-game press conference that the Idaho band had contributed to that victory.

"Having that atmosphere and the people coming out and supporting us, there's nothing better than that, and we can't appreciate them more than to be Bulldog fans," he said. "And a lot of times when you're on the road and you're the underdog, a lot of times the crowd goes in your favor and that helped a little bit, too."

The "Vandogs" also accompanied Yale for its game against San Diego State on Sunday, which ended in defeat.

But that act of camaraderie endured as a March Madness high point, going viral on social media and prompting Lamont to formally recognize the Vandals' "display of generosity and sportsmanship."

The proclamation honors the University of Idaho band — quoting from Idaho's own fight song — saying it had "made a significant contribution to the atmosphere and energy of the crowd and enhanced the Yale Bulldogs' 2024 NCAA Men's Tournament experience."

A spokesperson from Lamont's office told NPR by email that the governor, himself a Yale alum, wanted to show the University of Idaho that Connecticut appreciated its kindness.

"Proclaiming a day in the university's honor is a fun way to show that while our two states may be on opposite sides of the country, acts of good sportsmanship like this can bring us together," the spokesperson added.

Idaho's athletic department responded in its own enthusiastic post on X, formerly known as Twitter, celebrating that the Sound of Idaho (as the band is known) "is being heard in Hartford": "The best band in the Big Sky is now the best band in the Ivy League!"

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.