NORMAN — As fans trekked to Gaylord Family — Oklahoma Memorial Stadium Saturday before the Sooners' matchup against Tulsa, volunteers handed out fliers printed with an odd request — don't cheer.
Don't yell or applaud when OU's Pride of Oklahoma Marching Band takes the field, the fliers said. Stay silent during the band's pregame and halftime shows.
Although the message asked fans not to show their support for the band, it was distributed by band alumni, parents and others. Those supporters are upset about the direction the band is taking under new director Justin Stolarik, who came to OU this fall.
Pride alumnus Kirby Swinney, the Shawnee High School marching band director, said he's concerned about the marching techniques the band has used under Stolarik's direction.
Stolarik's on-field drill formations mainly consist of straight lines and blocks, Swinney said — elements that were in fashion in the '60s and '70s, but are considered outdated now.
“It's not very involved,” Swinney said. “It's very basic, it's very boring and it doesn't challenge them.”
Swinney said he was concerned that using outdated drill design would leave students with an experience that isn't relevant to the world of marching band today. Music education students who graduate from OU would leave the university with no practical experience on how to lead a contemporary marching band, he said.
Stolarik said he disagreed that the shows were outmoded. In an email, Stolarik said the shows were “designed to feature a wide variety of musical styles, with clean lines and full-field visual appeal.”
“It's about entertainment value,” said Stolarik, who declined to be interviewed in person.
Stolarik said he recognized that changes are difficult for an organization like the Pride. Some of the students in the band have been willing to cooperate with him and have worked hard in rehearsals this year.
Stolarik, who replaced former Pride director Brian Britt over the summer, caused outcry earlier this summer when he planned major changes to the band's pregame routine, including an updated fanfare before the drum major takes the field.
Rumors also circulated that the band would play the opposing team's fight song at the end of each game. That rumor touched off the wrath of OU fans, despite band leaders' denials that it had even been a possibility.
But two weeks before the season opener, the university's director of bands announced the band would be sticking with tradition — at least in part. The band went forward with two other planned changes — replacing “You're A Grand Old Flag” with “America the Beautiful” and adjusting how the band enters its interlocking “OU” formation before it leaves the field.
But many fans and alumni are still upset with the shows the band has performed so far this year. Earlier this month, fans launched a Facebook page, “Restore the Pride of Oklahoma Marching Band,” calling on the band to return to old pregame traditions.
Another website, www.firejustinstolarik.com, points out similarities between shows the Pride have performed this year and older shows from the University of Wisconsin, where Stolarik served as assistant marching band director before coming to OU.
But that criticism isn't limited just to fans and alumni. The band's tuba section staged a walkout at Monday's rehearsal, said Mac Mecoy, an alto saxophonist. Only three of roughly a dozen tuba players showed up to the rehearsal, he said.
Mecoy, who is the son of The Oklahoman's business editor Don Mecoy, said he didn't think Stolarik was prepared to lead the Pride. The band has less confidence in Stolarik than they had in Britt, the band's previous director, Mecoy said.
Most of the uproar surrounding the band has been driven by a few outspoken members, Mecoy said. He has mixed feelings about Stolarik, he said. Not all of the changes he's made have been bad, Mecoy said, and he doesn't think he's doing a poor job as director.
“I miss the old director,” he said. “I'll say that.”