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Forty years of Hog Calling: The Marching Jayhawks’ pregame tradition
You’re already in your seat. You’re still in line at the snack bar. Or maybe you are enjoying one last beverage before heading into Memorial Stadium.

You’re already in your seat. You’re still in line at the snack bar. Or maybe you are enjoying one last beverage before heading into Memorial Stadium. Be anywhere else but under the east side stands about 40 minutes before kickoff, and you will miss a Marching Jayhawks tradition that’s a little more obscure than most.

 

For 40 years, the Marching Jayhawks have used one song to pump them up before running onto the field at Memorial Stadium to play the songs that get everyone else ready for the game.

“When it’s hog calling time in Nebraska When it’s hog calling time in Nebraska When it’s hog calling time in Nebraska When it’s hog calling time in Nebraska A-a-men!”

If it sounds bizarre and unofficial, that’s because it is. Unlike other KU traditions that date back to the late 19th century, “Hog Calling” began 40 years ago when a group of Marching Jayhawks were bored.

From the top

Lee Whitman, d’82, from Kearney, Nebraska, learned the song while working on staff at a Boy Scout camp. “It was a silly song the staff would sing to the Boy Scout troops, kind of like a comedy skit,” Whitman said.

 

“It was started my freshman year in 1977 when three friends and I were trying to kill time before run-in by singing classic barbershop quartet songs. Fellow tubas John Clyatt & Gordon Lankenau, drum major Steve Gordon, and I ran through a few songs to scattered applause and had time to do one more. I pulled Hog Calling out and said to just follow my lead. The people listening laughed and next week we were asked to do it again. And so it started. By the time I marched my last game as a student, it had elevated to most of the band gathering around to join in,” Whitman said.

 

“Don’t ask me what made me suggest the four of us sing it that first time in 1977, or why such a nonsensical song would catch on in Jayhawk nation. It just happened. It was just a time-killer until everyone yelled ‘drums on the field’ meaning we were getting ready to run down the steps and start pregame.”

 

Surprised that the song is still going strong, 40 years later?

 

“I thought it would die a swift death after I graduated in 1982.”

Hog calling today

Bennett Johnson, a Lenexa senior studying music education, is a drum major for the Marching Jayhawks. As a four-year member, Johnson has gone from wide-eyed freshman to a leader for more than 250 students in the band.

 

“The freshmen in the band aren’t told about it beforehand, and the surprise is pretty amazing,” Johnson said. “I thought it was one of the coolest experiences I’d had at KU so far.”

 

Like most traditions, the Hog Calling has changed over time. The entire band gathers arm-in-arm in circles and sings the verse two times. In between verses, a band member gives a short speech while everyone hums along to the melody. Afterwards, everyone huddles up for a ‘What time is it? Game time!’ call and response.

 

Since the sousaphone section started the tradition 40 years ago, it’s only appropriate that they get their time to shine during each rendition today.

 

“Each game, a different sousaphone member gives the speech and leads the chant at the end,”  Johnson said. “The last game of the season is usually taken by the most senior member of the section.”

 

Despite the changes, don’t expect to hear complaining from those who were there first.

 

“I love how it has morphed over the years,” Whitman said. “I like that Hog Calling is our band’s private tradition, and the members are free to modify as they see fit. When we started, it was four guys singing at a single run-in line and believe me, even after we graduated we had no idea that the younger students would keep it up!”

A group of Marching Jayhawks members in the 1980s

The other KU team

As a group of students that commit their free time three days a week to practice—plus gamedays, which are often all-day affairs— the Marching Jayhawks share a bond in their passion for the University, the music, and each other: the other KU team that plays on Saturdays on the hill.

 

“The band is a family, often as close-knit as any greek house or other similar organization,” Whitman said. “We aren’t all music majors, in fact I think a majority are not. But we love playing, being part of the game day experience, and being a part of one of the best marching band programs around.”

 

—Ryan Camenzind

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