Thunder Mountain High School’s Kaili DeMello plays in the pep band during a basketball game last season at Thunder Mountain High School. (Courtesy Photo | Phil Loseby)

Thunder Mountain High School’s Kaili DeMello plays in the pep band during a basketball game last season at Thunder Mountain High School. (Courtesy Photo | Phil Loseby)

Southeast pep bands integral to Region V Tournament

Thunder Mountain pep bandmates talk about the experience

Trumpets, trombones, drums and cowbells reached beyond the building’s large waterfront parking lot. Upon approaching the B.J. McGillis Gymnasium — a repurposed World War II airplane hangar on the campus on Mt. Edgecumbe High School — they made their presence known.

The first thing that welcomed fans to the Region V 2A/3A/4A Basketball Tournament last week in Sitka weren’t basketball teams — it was the pep bands.

“I’ve been all around the country, I’ve been to different high school and college tournaments,” Thunder Mountain High School senior tambourinist and saxophonist Kaili DeMello said. “I got to say Alaska is probably one of the absolute best.”

Every March, high school pep bands travel with their respective boys and girls basketball teams to the Region V Tournament. The pep bands are part and parcel of the March event, providing the soundtrack to the hardwood drama that comes when 20 teams assemble for five days and 30 games.

“If you step out of the gym at Juneau the only thing that you can hear is the guitar and the bass,” DeMello said. “But if you step out here I was hearing trumpets, I was hearing trombones, saxophones and the drumline and bass and guitar. I was hearing all of that.”

It’s DeMello’s first time playing in the cavernous hangar. When DeMello and the others sit on the far end of the gymnasium, several hundred feet away from playing surface, it still feels as if they’re in the middle of the action.

“The bass and the guitar, the drums, they don’t overtake the rest of the sound because we’re all playing in this big space so we all echo,” she said. “It’s not just the people in the front lines like it is in Juneau that take over everything.”

TMHS consistently brings one of the largest masses of music makers, outnumbering its varsity basketball team approximately four-to-one.

Rose Rice is a Thunder Mountain senior captain of the pep band. Rice has traveled to region tournaments every year beginning as a freshman. She and the rest of the team stepped in for Metlakatla when the small Annette Island school didn’t have a band last year.

“All their family came over to Ketchikan from Metlakatla and they were super excited and happy that a 4A team was playing for their pep band,” Rice said. “They were beyond excited about it.”

Brian Van Kirk advises the Falcon pep band. He said the region tournament is about the relationships made between teams of different schools. Southeast Alaska’s size and roadless geography forces teams to remain in town for the entire tournament while staying in the local students’ homes.

“You create those long-term friendships and that community inside of Southeast,” Van Kirk said. “There’s a certain level of competition I guess with the pep bands but it’s a different, healthy kind of competition. It’s not, ‘We’re going to do better than you.’ You celebrate each other when you have a really cool song.”

Like the communities they represent, every pep band has its own style.

“Looking at Sitka’s (pep band) they have more of a marching band-style,” Rice said. “We have the more edgy, rock band-style, but we make it more exciting than just a rock band. It’s a pep band, but it’s not like a marching band and it’s not like a rock band. It’s in between the two.”

• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or Follow Empire Sports on Twitter at @akempiresports.

More in Sports

Carlos Boozer, a former Juneau high school basketball player and retired NBA all-star, talks with a student at his basketball camp in Juneau in 2017. (Nolin Ainsworth/Juneau Empire File)
Carlos Boozer memoir includes full life story, Juneau years

NBA star and hometown hero pens “Every Shot Counts”

The Juneau-Douglas High School: Kalé volleyball team faces off against Bartlett High School during bracket play in the 2023 West Spiketacular Tournament in Anchorage on Saturday. JDHS won the play-in match to get to the final four in the Bronze Bracket, but lost its subsequent game in straight sets. (Screenshot from video by JDHS volleyball)
Juneau’s teams fall short in 2023 West Spiketacular Tournament in Anchorage

TMHS goes 9-3, JDHS 0-12 in pool play; both local teams knocked out early in bracket rounds.

Juneau senior Eric Tipton (88) levels Anchorage South wide receiver Landon Drumm during Saturday’s game at Adair-Kennedy Field. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Huskies go South, lose regular season finale 46-0

Juneau, last place at 0-7 in conference, faces top-seed Anchorage West in playoffs.

Runners start the combined DI/DII Region V Boys Cross Country Championship race on Saturday at Treadwell Mine Trails. (Klas Stolpe / For the Juneau Empire)
JDHS, Sitka sweep region XC titles

Cross-country champions cite strong team chemistry.

High school boys sprint after the starting gun fires during the Sayeik Invitational on Douglas on Aug. 26. Students from Southeast Alaska schools are scheduled to meet at the same site Saturday for the Region V cross-country champions. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)
Juneau hosts Region V cross-country championships

Top high school runners in Southeast will vie for state berths Saturday.

Food has so much more value if you get it yourself and few things taste better than fresh game meat. (Photo by Jeff Lund)
I Went to the Woods: Freezer full of fun

My wife added a little sugar, but not so much that the… Continue reading

A Ketchikan High School volleyball player, at left, unsuccessfully tries to hit the ball over the net, giving Juneau-Douglas High School: Kalé the decisive winning point in a game Saturday during the Southeast Super Slamma Jamma Volleyball Tournament in Sitka. JDHS, after winning the opening game of the lower-ranking Coho Division in Saturday’s tournament, lost the division championship game to Homer High School in straight sets. (Screenshot from Mount Edgecumbe High School video of tournament)
JDHS, TMHS both claim victories of sorts at Sitka tournament

For previously winless Crimson Bears, advancing to a title game marks a step forward.

Juneau’s Anthony Garcia (22) carries the ball deep into West Anchorage High School territory to set up the Huskies’ first touchdown early in the third quarter during Saturday’s game in Anchorage. (Screenshot from Juneau Huskies football livestream video)
Depleted Huskies lose at West Anchorage 59-21

JV players make up one-third of Juneau’s squad during matchup against top team in conference.

Juneau’s two high school volleyball teams, Thunder Mountain High School and Juneau-Douglas High School: Kalé, face off last Saturday at TMHS as they go through polar opposite seasons this year. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Juneau’s volleyball teams going in opposite directions entering tournament play

TMHS is undefeated, JDHS winless as teams begin three-day Sitka competition.

Most Read