Kelsey Branson is a senior saxophonist in The Pride of Oklahoma Marching Band. She’s been in the band since she was a freshman, and on Saturday, Nov. 21, at the last home game of the year, she will take the field with The Pride for a final time. What it’s like to perform in front of 85,000 people? She shares there’s simply nothing like it.
“My favorite part is pre-game,” says Branson. “We’re huddled together in the tunnels, awaiting our cue to run onto the field. The crowd is so loud as we begin our performance, it’s overwhelming. I love being a part of this tradition with my band family.”
Although she’s done this several dozen times now, she says the excitement never wears off. If you’ve been to an Oklahoma football game, you probably know what she’s talking about. The energy in the atmosphere is palpable. The Pride leads the crowd in rallying behind the team. Fight songs and chants bring us to our feet, even when it seems our backs are to the wall in a close game.
Now, The Pride will use this persevering spirit to rally behind an even greater fight. When Branson plays in the band’s half-time performance on Nov. 21, she’ll be marching for a victory against cancer. During this performance, members of The Pride will be wearing sashes in honor of those who have been affected by cancer. Sashes can be purchased online for a $250 donation to cancer research at the Stephenson Cancer Center at The University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. The sash you order, personalized with the name of your choice, will be mailed back to you after the game as a keepsake.
The sash to be worn by Branson, is particularly special, as it will be personalized with her brother’s name. In 2008, Sean Branson, who was also in a marching band, died suddenly a week before his 17th birthday. It wasn’t until after his passing that his family learned he had a rare and rapidly advancing form of leukemia.
“I was in 8th grade and a member of my middle school marching band in Texas,” says Branson. “I never got the chance to march with Sean, because he passed before I got to high school. But I’ll march with him, while wearing his name, on senior day with The Pride.”
The Pride is made up of 300 students from 22 different states. They are coming together to represent not only the names on the sashes, but the stories they each represent - rallying us together unlike ever before.
“It will be a special day for me and my family,” says Branson. “We made the donation to the Stephenson Cancer Center in honor of Sean and to give hope to other families affected by cancer.”
Hope is at the Center: Oklahomans No Longer Have to Leave Home
When the Stephenson Cancer Center officially opened its doors in the summer of 2011,Tamra Atchley, an avid Sooner fan, began visiting the Stephenson Cancer Center with her mother, Brenda. Brenda had a rare form of colon cancer that took her life in the fall of 2014, but Tamra says their time together at the cancer center was not what you’d expect.
“It is a place of hope. It was comforting knowing we had access to clinical trials and advanced therapies,” says Atchley. “We were able to stay close to home, but didn’t sacrifice the level of care my mom received. I was thrilled to learn how the Stephenson Cancer Center and The Pride of Oklahoma are working together to spread the good news.”
Since the first patient appointment, the Stephenson Cancer Center has dedicated its resources and knowledge to providing patient-centered care. Additionally, more than 200 Stephenson Cancer Center research members - including faculty from the OU Health Sciences Center, OU Norman and OU-Tulsa campuses as well as Oklahoma State University, and Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation - conduct innovative and nationally funded laboratory, populations-based, and clinical research.
Connected to the Cause
Catherine Oster was a clarinet player in The Pride from 1995 to 1999. Her mother, Ottilie, attended the University of Texas, but when Oster joined The Pride, her parents got season tickets and attended every home game she performed.
“I don’t think my mom cared much for Oklahoma football at first,” says Oster, “but having her and my dad there meant the world to me. Even after I graduated, watching football games together was something we enjoyed.”
In 2003, Ottilie was diagnosed with cancer. Oster remembers how much fun her mom had watching the 2005 National Championship game that Oklahoma played in, despite her mother’s illness. Ottilie passed away later that spring.
“I love this idea - that we could all band together against cancer,” says Oster. “Cancer affects so many, and The Pride is a great platform for sharing this important message to a large audience, whether you’re an Oklahoma football fan or not.”
“Everyone within The Pride of Oklahoma organization has been directly impacted by cancer,” says Brian Britt, associate dean, Weitzenhoffer Family College of Fine Arts, and director of The Pride of Oklahoma Marching Band. “We’ve all had friends and family who have fought cancer and Band Together Against Cancer is a chance for us to do something about it. As we honor our friends and family through the wearing of these sashes, we are raising funds to fight cancer as well. We want to do all we can to help end cancer within our lifetime and hope that our efforts will inspire others to commit to helping this vitally important cause.”
Whatever your story may be, purchase a commemorative sash online if you would like to band together against cancer. All proceeds benefit cancer research at the Stephenson Cancer Center. Donations made to the Stephenson Cancer Center are eligible for the Oklahoma Biomedical Tax Credit.
The Pride of Oklahoma will wear these sashes in a special halftime performance:
OU vs. TCU Game
Saturday, Nov. 21
Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium
ABOUT THE STEPHENSON CANCER CENTER
Oklahoma’s only comprehensive academic cancer center, the Stephenson Cancer Center at the University of Oklahoma is a nationally noted leader in research and patient care. The Stephenson Cancer Center annually ranks among the top three cancer centers in the nation for patients participating in National Cancer Institute-sponsored treatment trials, and it is one of 30 designated lead centers nationally in the Institute’s National Clinical Trials Network. In collaboration with the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust, the Stephenson Cancer Center is decreasing the burden of cancer in Oklahoma by supporting innovative laboratory, clinical and populations-based research. The Stephenson Cancer Center has 200 research members who are conducting over 100 cancer research projects at institutions across Oklahoma. This research is supported by $31.1 million in annual funding from the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society and other sponsors.