People and Community Sports

UMiami student performers prepare for the Final Four

UCheer’s coed squad and the Frost Band of the Hour Pep Band have a unique opportunity to perform in front of hundreds of thousands of fans—both in attendance at NRG Stadium and those watching from home—at the 2023 NCAA March Madness Final Four basketball tournament in Houston.
Olivia Carfagno, junior studying exercise physiology major. Photo: Franco LaTona/University of Miami

Olivia Carfagno, a junior studying exercise physiology, during practice at the Watsco Center on Tuesday. Photo: Franco LaTona/University of Miami

Stella Bilder knew her first year as a member of the Frost Band of the Hour Pep Band would be exciting, but the alto saxophonist never imagined she would be traveling to Houston this week to perform on national television in the 2023 NCAA Men’s Final Four. 

“We’ve been reminded of how high profile this one is and just how many eyes are going to be on us with this particular game,” said Bilder, a marine biology and ecology major from Chicago, Illinois.

Coming back from the Elite Eight game, many of her friends and family members asked Bilder about her experience. She struggled to find the words.

“Not only do I get to play, but I get to spend this time with all the people that I love to hang out with,” Bilder said. 

She is one piece of a small group of performers selected from the University of Miami’s spirit squads to build enthusiasm and spirit for the Hurricanes men’s basketball team this Saturday—and potentially on Monday—during the NCAA championship weekend.

Jay Rees, professor of music and the director of athletic bands, said he is delighted for the University’s student-athletes and his student musicians to perform at such a high-profile event. 

“To be seen by so many people from all over the world makes me so happy. To see our student musicians come together and do something that you can’t do alone, contributing and doing something positive in front of an enormous amount of people is thrilling,” said Rees. “I'm so proud of these students for not only what they do but how they do it. This band is classy, professional, enthusiastic, and they play great–they are the full package.” 

Read more March Madness coverage here.

Saturday, April 1 at the NRG Stadium in Houston will likely be the most prominent stage for many student performers, including Shelby Devore, a junior majoring in music education from Jacksonville, Florida. She has been a drum major for the Frost Band of the Hour Pep Band for two years. On Tuesday evening, Devore organized a gathering for her bandmates to polish their instruments and pick up brand new white marching band gloves. 

“I especially like for people to see our energy and see how excited we are to perform live at these basketball games,” said Devore, who plays the horn. “People know that it's us when they see us in our rugby shirts and hear our instrumentation because it's a little different. I love being on TV–this whole experience is a lot of fun.” 

Through the season, they have also gained a mutual appreciation for the team, agreed senior Christopher Ricardo and Gray Kafkes, a graduate teaching assistant, who both play trumpet for the pep band. They often receive high fives from record-setting scorer, Jordan Miller.

“It’s really unbelievable how the team has played,” Kafkes said. “All year they have gelled so well, and they support us too.”

The coed cheerleading squad also appreciates the fortune of this moment. Dylan Barron is ecstatic to be one of 12 cheerleaders heading to Houston this weekend. While Barron spent his childhood sharpening his gymnastics skills after school, he also spent weekends rooting for the Hurricanes football team with his aunt and uncle. When he started college, Barron decided to combine two of his favorite hobbies and tried out for UCheer. Now in his third year on the squad, Barron is the coed captain.

It was in the middle of the women’s basketball game last Sunday when Barron and the rest of his team learned they would be performing in the Final Four. While cheering for a basketball team in the Elite Eight last spring was amazing, he said Saturday’s game is another caliber.

“It has been an amazing experience to be part of the UCheer squad, and I’m very excited to be a part of all this cool history,” said Barron, a junior studying public relations.

While the UCheer squad has planned most of the time-out sequences, they will read the crowd to decide on the exact plan for halftime. It will likely include fan favorites like “We Got Some ’Canes Over Here (Whoosh Whoosh!),” “It’s Great to be a Miami Hurricane,” “Let’s Go Canes,” or the C-A-N-E-S spellout.

“The fans will see a lot of energy, some great game stunts and they will definitely see our presence on the court with lots of pride in what we do,” he said.

Senior Haley Traub, Barron, and junior Olivia Carfagno at a recent basketball game. Photo courtesy of UCheer.

Cheerleader R.J. Harkin, a sophomore studying exercise physiology from New Milford, Connecticut, has a lot riding on the game against the University of Connecticut Huskies. 

“All my best friends go to UConn because it's my state school, so I would obviously love for us to win, so I can hold this over their heads for the rest of our lives,” said Harkin, jokingly. 

Besides the bragging rights, Harkin is also psyched that the squad will be performing during halftime. 

“I think everyone performing at this game is giving it their full attention and bringing their A-game,” said Harkin. “This is huge for us; we want to really make sure we are focused and staying ready for whatever comes next.”

Regardless of the outcome on the scoreboard, Barron, Harkin, and the band members are all grateful for the chance to share their fervor for the Hurricanes. Barron will just be doing it through backflips.

“I am going to take it all in and appreciate everything,” he said. “This is such a cool opportunity, and I’m really excited. I have been looking forward to it since Sunday.”

UCheer at practice
UCheer members practice gravity-defying flips during practice at the Watsco Center. Photo: Franco LaTona/University of Miami