OKLAHOMA CITY — For the Star Spencer High School marching band, Friday Night Lights started on a Thursday before the sun went down.
With the temperature hovering near 100 degrees at kickoff, the 85 members of the high-energy show band opted for white T-shirts and khaki shorts instead of the standard white, navy blue and gray uniforms for the home opener Sept. 5 against Millwood High.
“It was kind of hot and our uniforms are kind of heavy so we decided not to wear them,” said senior Deron Gabriel, 17, a trumpet player and first-year drum major. “I’m used to the heat so it wasn’t a big deal for me.”
As part of the drum major’s halftime salute, Gabriel bent over backward far enough to touch his head on the ground.
Turns out, the band’s high-stepping performance was the highlight of the evening.
Millwood won 54-0.
“People want to watch us perform,” said Torrey Purvey, the school’s band director. “We look like we’re having fun.”
Known as the Marching Machine, the band models its style after college programs at Grambling State University, Southern University, Florida Atlantic University and Langston University that combine upbeat music and drum cadences with hip-hop dance moves and precision drill steps.
“I’m more of a ’70s, ’80s funk kind of person,” said Purvey, a former drum major at Millwood High School and Langston University who is now in his 10th season as Star Spencer’s director.
Among the numbers from the band’s extensive playlist for the Millwood game: “Get Down on It” by Kool & The Gang.
“The band is the show,” said Kae-Leh Dukes, 17, a third-year clarinet player.
Gabriel nodded in agreement.
“We have a way with the crowd,” he said.
Purvey increased band enrollment by 200 percent in his first year at the school. Back then, one in 10 students played in the band. Today, it’s one in four.
“The tradition was still there,” he said. “But they didn’t have the excitement.”
Band members rarely sit still. They play continuously, except when the Bobcats are on offense.
“That’s part of having home-field advantage when you have a large band, to distract the other team,” Purvey said, smiling.
The band’s popularity extends beyond the football field.
In each of the last four years, members performed during halftime of an Oklahoma City Thunder regular-season game.
They are the only high school team in the state to have done so, officials said.
“They’re kind of a crowd favorite,” said Karina Henderson, the team’s corporate communications manager. “That’s why we keep bringing them back.”
Many current and former band members began playing musical instruments at nearby Rogers Middle School, where Purvey previously taught.
The current edition is an eclectic mix of personalities and styles who say they feel accepted by their band mates.
“I can be myself,” said Emebrlee Crawford, 17, a senior. “I’m very weird.”
Baritone horn player Chris Braxton, a 17-year-old senior, has a ’70s-style Afro that is mostly hidden under his headgear during performances.
“Everybody in the band is different,” Crawford said. “That’s what makes it work.”
Purvey pushes his students to excel and is considered a father figure.
“I teach them more than band,” he said. I teach them life.”
At Star Spencer, band is considered a sport because of the physical demands.
“If it gets too hard they just quit and join the football team,” Gabriel joked.