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Friday, February 23, 2024 — Houston, TX

Not your average marching band. Not even a marching band.

Ndidi Nwosu / Thresher

By Noah Berz     10/4/23 12:13am

John “Grungy” Gladu is the Marching Owl Band’s longest standing member, and he was never even a Rice student. Celebrating his 51st year as a MOBster this year, Gladu joined the MOB in 1970 at the recommendation of his own band director at Houston Baptist College, now Houston Christian University. Despite spending his first season doing menial tasks and dirty work, he said he was hooked after his first game on the field.

“[My] band director [said] one day in band, ‘If you miss marching band, go on over to Rice Institute … and meet with Bert Roth. They’ll give you a uniform and 10 bucks per game,’” Gladu said. “And I haven’t left.”

By now, Gladu has reached the status of “old fart,” a moniker given to alumni and community members of the band who are older and wiser than the average MOBster. With a more relaxed schedule than most marching bands and no restrictions about what instruments are allowed on the field, the MOB is open to anyone. From clarinetists to kazooers, anyone who wants to play music and have a good time is welcomed, MOBsters say.  

“I’ve never been particularly good at playing my instrument, like I would never call myself a musician,” Dasseny Arreola, the MOB’s executive producer and Lovett College junior, said. “I just always have been there for the vibes, and the MOB is the epitome of being there for the vibes.”

While the MOB is smaller than the average band, their unorthodox style is another thing that sets them apart. Most college bands march in strict, orderly fashion while playing through marching band classics, but the MOB nixes these expectations. 

In fact, they don’t march at all. They’re what’s called a “scatter band.” The concept was started by Stanford University students in the 1960s and adopted by Rice in 1970. Members run haphazardly to each formation instead of marching, giving the traditional marching band a more fun and spastic look. Gladu defines the MOB’s true beginning as its first scatter.

“It was the exit from the last formation of the last show in 1970 [when it happened],” Gladu said. “It was a [Texas Christian University] game and three trumpet players who had admired what Stanford and the Ivies were doing said, ‘[Roth] we gotta do this! [Roth] we gotta do this! Let us do this!’”

The MOB also takes pride in their unique halftime shows. MOBsters spend hours each week carefully crafting sarcastic and satirical scripts to perform on game days. According to Gladu, the first time these scripted halftime skits really hit big was in the year 1973, when the MOB let loose on their opponent, Texas A&M University.

“We did our show and the boos got louder and louder and louder, and then there were people coming down out of the stands to beat us up,” Gladu said. “Sometime in the third quarter I got hit in the head with a Coke thrown out of the second deck.” 

Images of outraged Aggies are on the MOB’s website to this day, but despite its unfavorable reception, this show cemented the MOB’s offbeat reputation. 

Additionally, the MOB has used its platform to raise awareness about topical issues in and around Houston. In 2019, the MOB called out Baylor University administration’s controversial statement toward LGBTQ+ students in a game at Baylor. On Sept. 16, the MOB put on a halftime show that drew parallels between Houston Independent School District administrators and Austin Powers characters, critiquing Superintendent Mike Miles and the controversial HISD takeover

These shows, however, aim for more than just a few jabs and a good laugh. According to MOB Executive Producer Ethan Goore, these shows represent some of the MOB’s more serious core values.

“Our whole philosophy is, ‘If not us, then who?’” Goore, a Duncan College junior, said. “I think that’s one of the great perks about the MOB not being a traditional marching band, that we’re able to do things like this.”

Politically engaged, unorthodox and inclusive, members would say that the MOB is many things. The one quality that Arreola, Goore and Gladu agreed sets the MOB apart, though, is the community aspect. As Gladu said, it’s much more than just a band.

“It’s my family,” Gladu said. “That’s why I’m still here.”

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