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Badger Bash Through the Years: Three Generations of a Game Day Tradition

School is back in session, and you know what that means: Football. The Wisconsin Badgers season is in full-swing and so is everyone’s favorite pregame event, Badger Bash.

Badger Bash brings together students, parents, alumni, Badger fans and more. It is also a time when we celebrate the UW Marching Band, one of our favorite partners on campus. As any Badger knows, Wisconsin game day is not complete without Badger Bash, and who is the star of the show? The Marching Band!

Journey with us as we take a look at how Badger Bash has evolved over the years, especially since 1969 when the torch was passed to UW Band Director Michael Leckrone.

Prior to when the original Union South was opened in 1971, the band would warm up in various spaces around Camp Randall.

In 1972, once Union South was built, manager Merrill “Corky” Sischo suggested the band use the area surrounding the building as an informal warm up space. The crowds kept coming to see Leckrone and the band in full swing.

This was the first Badger Bash.

It lacked some of the bells and whistles of the current Badger Bash, but was a true celebration of the band’s traditions.

“As the crowd continued to grow, the performance became more ‘formulated’ but was still very relaxed,” Mike Leckrone said.

My dad in the Marching Band.

During that time, my very own father was a member of the band. A trumpet player from 1983-‘87, he participated in the earlier renditions of Badger Bash. It was more informal, but still featured the crowd interactions and good vibes we appreciate today.

“It was our opportunity to get psyched and warm up before marching into the stadium for the game. It was more like a pick-up game; it was one of the few times we performed where it was just fun, with little worries about being flawless,” he said. “The crowd was always excited and having a great experience, and it was when Mike had a chance to interact with the crowd and tell his corny jokes.”

In 2009, the old Union South was torn down, but that didn’t stop the band. They moved over to Engineering Mall and continued to fine tune the Badger Bash experience.

The brand new Union South opened in 2011, and Badger Bash became the spectacle we love. The courtyard of the building was even designed to accommodate the band and give them the best acoustics possible.

“Back at the new Union South, more production demands were added (presentation of sections, T.V., special entrances, etc.) – more or less matching what is done today,” Leckrone said.

And so the Badger Bash we currently know and love was born.

UW Marching Band Drum Major CJ Zabat

Today, Badger Bash is still the game day celebration it’s always been.

CJ Zabat is in his fourth year with the band. As the current Drum Major of the UW Marching Band, Badger Bash for him is the start of the band’s game day performance.

“Morning practice is an early and energetic way to start our football Saturdays, but after taking a break at home, being in full uniform at Union South for the Badger Bash is the first step in everything else that follows,” CJ said. “Pregame, kick-off, halftime, Jump Around, Fifth Quarter and cadencing back to Humanities all happen in just a few hours, but they all start with us at Union South!”

The event has been changing and growing since 1972, but the band traditions that originally shaped Badger Bash are still alive and going strong.

Just as in the 70’s, 80’s and beyond, Badger Bash is still an important part of a Wisconsin home football game.

“During the fall, the Badger Bash is a staple of gameday in Madison,” Zabat said. “All of the traditions like Mike’s entrance, the tuba skyrocket or playing You’ve Said It All are fun examples of the rich history the band has with the university and the Union in particular.”

Throughout its history, Badger Bash has been creating experiences for a lifetime as the Union and the band work together to create a memorable time for all.

My father remembers that, when the band would start playing, everyone in the nearby Wendt library would stop what they were doing and stare out of the window.

CJ’S favorite Badger Bash memory? Dancing with his mother at the first game day this fall.

“I had dreamed of dancing with my mom at a Badger Bash as the Drum Major for years, so it was a dream come true!” CJ said.

Moving forward, Badger Bash will continue to maintain the traditions that have sustained it throughout the years. As Leckrone ends his 50 years with the band, we will continue to look forward to what’s to come from this great partnership with the band, but never lose sight of the goal.

“It is the plan that the bash be as informal as possible – and emphasize FUN for the audience, the visitors, and the band,” Leckrone said.

Since Corky’s suggestion in 1972, Badger Bash has cemented itself in the hearts of Badger fans.

So next time you’re at Badger Bash, think of all who came before who have participated in this event. In honor of his legacy with the Union and his vision and enthusiasm for this great event, Corky Sischo will be commemorated with a plaque at Union South. It is thanks to him, and countless others, that we have such a longstanding and special tradition.

Join us at Union South on October 6 for the next Badger Bash and home football game.

Author: Maddie Boulanger

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