JULY 2, 2020 — Sharp orange and blue uniforms, rousing musical arrangements, fun choreography, and a fight song and alma mater that spark true spirit in the stadium—the UTSA marching band is the soundtrack to the student experience—and so much more.
Under the leadership of the founding director of athletic bands, Ron Ellis, the Spirit of San Antonio—called SOSA by most—has blossomed into what some may describe as the very soul of San Antonio.
“Professor Ellis was able to create elements of the band’s work virtually overnight that are now a celebrated part of UTSA traditions, and his original arrangements provide SOSA with a truly unique sound,” said Tracy Cowden, chair of the Department of Music. “In less than 10 years SOSA has made a wonderful impact on the university and our community, from representing UTSA at the 70th anniversary World War II D-Day Memorial Parade in Normandy, France, to appearing at several significant events during UTSA’s 50th anniversary celebrations and the city’s tricentennial. SOSA’s excellence is a tremendous point of pride for its members and for all of UTSA and San Antonio.”
Ellis began laying the foundation for SOSA when he was hired in 2010, given a year to get the program off the ground with a goal of signing up 150 members for the first football game of UTSA’s new NCAA Division 1 football team and season in 2011.
Uniforms and instruments were purchased, music selected and Ellis himself created arrangements of the fight song and the alma mater specifically for a marching band. Some 220 students signed up for SOSA, causing a last-minute rush to secure more uniforms before the big debut game. From the start it was clear that the music department, the university and the community supported the marching band, Ellis said.
“If you’re going to start a marching band, it’s a huge endeavor,” he said. “I’m really prideful about how successful we’ve been here.”
Alana Urbano ’13, was the band’s first drum major and a Golden Feather Award recipient. She served with two other women drum majors, Annie Moras Alegre and Sydney Corbin, and said she came away from the experience with a ton of school pride, great leadership skills and experience in recruiting.
Now an elementary school music educator in Pflugerville, Urbano said it’s still a point of pride for her that she served in that role and had the opportunity to create history and tradition.
One of her favorite times with the band, she said—aside from the first football game and the first appearance running out of the tunnel—was band camp.
“Band camp is one of the coolest, coolest times,” Urbano said. “We’re all learning how to be Roadrunners and we’re learning how to be the Spirit of San Antonio. Spirit. That is exactly what we are. We’re the spirit of San Antonio.”
The band’s most well-known appearance may be the 70th anniversary World War II D-Day Memorial Parade in Normandy, France, but they have played stadiums all across Texas and beyond.
“In university band years we’re young,” Urbano added, “we’re a baby. We’ve done cultural events around the city, we’ve done some events for the city’s 300th, we’ve performed at Texas A&M twice.”
“The thing that Texas gets that other people are jealous of is they’ve got community, whether big or small, and they get icons, they get that the marching is that—an icon,” Ellis said.
The program has grown now boasts 330 members. It’s as much a part of the fabric of UTSA as it is San Antonio.
“My biggest goal was for it to start and for people to feel like it’s always been here, like it’s hard to remember when they weren’t here, a seamless integration,” Ellis said.
For Daniel Gonzalez, it already is tradition. The senior cybersecurity major saw The University of Texas at San Antonio as a chance to build on his 20-year career in the U.S. Air Force, where he ran the network operations center for recruiting. He sees it as a kind of a second act to his military career.
At 44, he could have attended his classes, earned good grades and graduated without ever experiencing the true UTSA experience. He chose otherwise.
“I like to tell people that most people in a mid-life crisis get an earring or a sports car,” he said. “I joined the marching band.”
Two decades away from his time as a high school percussionist, Gonzalez’s goal was the drumline but he found his place in the cymbal line instead. And, he said, it wasn’t just the music experience he wanted.
“It’s an excellent opportunity to be a part of the UTSA tradition but not just that, the whole college experience,” he said. “I’m not just a 9-to-5 guy. I’m willing to put in the extra work, to work with people half my age and to not just be a leader but a valuable member of the organization.”
Being a part of the marching band is a tangible demonstration of all of that and these are things, Gonzalez said, are marketable skills to have.
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