After a nearly two-year hiatus, it’s time for this season’s first The Undefeated rankings of the top bands among historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in NCAA Division I and Division II.
The top bands are the Florida A&M Marching 100 in Division I and Benedict College Band of Distinction in Division II. For the first time in poll history, FAMU sits No. 1 overall. In the final 2019 top 10 rankings, FAMU finished at seventh.
The rankings, conducted by two six-person panels of current and retired band directors and HBCU choreographers, evaluate bands on musicality, pictures, drill and design, percussion, auxiliary corps and drum majors. Judges critique the bands’ routines after watching their performances, then provide feedback to the programs.
“While other polls are focused strictly on entertainment, popularity and competition, our goal is to continually improve the quality of our amazing HBCU bands through positive feedback from their peers and professional colleagues,” said Don P. Roberts, executive consultant for The Undefeated HBCU Band Rankings. “Our poll is not based on popularity, but more so on objective criteria that can be used to improve each and every performance. Some other polls only focus on stand battles, but our rankings reiterate the fact that field shows and good tone still matter.”
The rankings divide bands from Division I and Division II schools, which include the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC), Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC), Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) and Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC). Independent schools such as Tennessee State and Hampton in Division I, and Talladega College, Allen University, Langston University, Florida Memorial and Edward Waters in Division II, are also rated.
This season is the first for both FAMU and Bethune-Cookman in the SWAC. The Bethune-Cookman Marching Wildcats are No. 2 in the initial ranking, right behind their former MEAC competitor.
The Marching 100 finished No. 1 in the first rankings in musicality, and pictures, drill and design. At the Orange Bowl Classic in Miami, the band went viral when it performed a formation of a basketball player dunking a ball.
“On behalf of our students, campus, alumni and administration, we are excited about our recent selection as the ESPN/Undefeated No. 1 HBCU marching band in America. Our current Marching 100 members are proud and poised to continue this great legacy, and realize we stand on the shoulders of the giants before us,” said Florida A&M director of bands Shelby Chipman. “The 2021 edition of the Marching 100 is excited to start our 75th anniversary with this incredible honor and to make our presence known in the SWAC. We pride ourselves on being the marchingest and playingest band in the world. The best is yet to come!”
Benedict College isn’t a stranger to the top of the rankings. The Band of Distinction finished the 2019 season ranked second overall after being rated top-5 in the three categories.
“It is indeed an honor to be recognized for this great achievement! Our success is a direct result of the tremendous support from our administration, band staff and the commitment to excellence, in both the classroom and the band room, by our student-musicians,” said Henry Wade Johnson, the director of bands at Benedict College. “We will continue to strive to be the #BestofBC. We also thank all of our fellow SIAC and HBCU bands across the nation for continuing to push music forward.”
HBCU band newcomers, the Florida Memorial ROAR and Allen University Band of Gold, have existed for less than five years, but both have managed to jump into the Division II top 10 with the ROAR and Band of Gold ranked second and ninth, respectively.
“We are most grateful for this prestigious acknowledgment as one of the best marching bands in America, particularly so early in our existence,” Florida Memorial director of bands Richard Beckford said of the ranking. “Our mission to empower Florida Memorial University’s band students to own their excellence on their path to success and to inspire future students to consider attending FMU and joining the ROAR here in Miami Gardens, Florida, is at the forefront of our efforts daily.”
When asked how it feels to finally crack the top 10, Allen’s director of bands Eddie Ellis simply said, “It feels good. … We have worked very hard to bring national attention to our band program and university. This is a great accomplishment and wonderful exposure for our band program.”