As Murray State Racer guard Cameron Payne steps forward and toes the free-throw line in a recent Belmont basketball home game against visiting Murray State, senior Fred Schmidt sprints down the aisle of the bleachers behind the opposing teams’ goal towards the floor.
His normal seat in the configuration of the pep band is near the top left corner, but for this, and every free-throw in recent games, Schmidt decides he needs a better view.
Setting down his beloved French horn, he races down the cement steps all the way to the guard rails not far from the court.
He eagerly looks back toward his fellow bandmates, notably best friend Neal Anderson.
Today they’ve decided to try something different.
As the referee bounces the ball and passes it to Payne, Schmidt violently thrusts his right hand into the air repeatedly.
Held firmly in his clenched fist is a long felt covered stick with a caricaturized dinosaur head attached to the far end of it.
The electronic roar from the beast’s gaping jaw is muffled behind the coordinated cries of Schmidt’s comrades in the band.
They have all begun to make dinosaur noises in an attempt to distract the free-throw shooter Payne.
Schmidt, situated directly adjacent to the court for Payne and all the other players to see, with veins throbbing in his neck and head, stands out among the crowd.
He is the brain. He is the heartbeat. He is the face.
He is the “loud guy” in the band.
But he is much more than that.
Schmidt, a senior at Belmont and Madisonville, Tex. native, has worked hard his past few years at Belmont to earn his prestigious reputation among those who flock to the friendly confines of the Curb Event Center on game days.
But despite the cliché, there is more to Fred than meets the eye.
Perhaps nobody is keener to this fact than Schmidt’s roommate the past three semesters, D’Antre Harleston or as Fred knows him, “Dee”.
“I’ve been roommates with Fred for about a year and a half now,” says Harleston.
“I’ll say one good thing about him, he is a nerd,” he jokes.
“Dee” and Fred could not be more different human beings if they tried, making their coexistence the past three semesters something akin to a season of MTVs “The Real World”.
Schmidt does not have any background in playing organized sports, “except for the occasional game of two-hand-touch before band practice in high school.”
In fact, in high school and until recently, he hated athletes.
He recalls his days in the high school marching band being made fun of by players on the team and being bullied.
“There is a guy from my hometown who is playing college football this year who is probably going to get drafted and play in the NFL,” Schmidt said.
“He used to go out of his way to bully me and make fun of me every single day in high school. In the halls, when we had band practice, any chance he got he tried to make my life miserable.”
When Schmidt arrived at Belmont, he had no desire or intention to become the celebrity of sorts he has become on campus at Belmont sporting events. He wanted nothing to do with the sports teams.
He joined the Vanderbilt marching band, and it seemed to be high school all over again.
Poor interactions with Vanderbilt athletes, trouble fitting in with the fellow band members there. Schmidt applied to Vanderbilt in high school, but was not granted admittance. Something his bandmates at Vanderbilt never let him forget.
“That kind of put a big chip on my shoulder,” laments Schmidt.
“I’ve used some of that bullying as huge motivation, not only for my musical performance, but also when it comes to my school-work.”
Schmidt has been on the Dean’s List every semester he’s been at Belmont and is “.01 points away from magna cum laude,” according to Schmidt.
A double-major in music composition and performance, Schmidt takes pride in his schoolwork.
“My freshman year I didn’t take my studies as seriously as I probably should have,” said Schmidt.
“Once I left the Vanderbilt marching band and decided to get involved with the pep band at Belmont, the upperclassmen and Dr. Kraus (band director) really pushed me and told me that I could be more than just another person in the band. I could stand out and be extraordinary.”
It was then in Schmidt’s sophomore year that his passion for the band began to grow into what it is today.
“It started with the volleyball games,” says Neal Anderson, a good friend and fellow pep band member with Schmidt.
“We used those as a sort of trial run before the basketball season started. Trying new cheers, being as loud as we could be because there weren’t as many people at the volleyball games as there were at the basketball games so when we got loud, everyone could hear us.”
As volleyball season drew to a close, Schmidt and company began to prepare for basketball season.
Using schools like Utah State and Duke as examples of how students and pep bands can impact the game, Schmidt and Anderson envisioned starting something similar at Belmont.
Schmidt and Anderson are inseparable now, but their relationship hasn’t always been that way.
“I met Fred during Concert Band our freshman year and immediately hated him,” said Anderson.
“He was an obnoxious loudmouth that was always making noise about something. I got to know him more, albeit reluctantly through our fraternity, Phi Mu Alpha Sinforia and it was then that we became great friends.”
Schmidt’s roles and responsibilities as both a member and the historian of Phi Mu Alpha also play a significant role in Schmidt’s life that goes unnoticed by observers who just see his antics during the games.
“As historian a big part of my job is informing all of our new brothers about the history of our fraternity, specifically here at Belmont. I’m also the main source of communication between our current active brothers in the chapter and some of the alumni members,” said Schmidt.
Today, Schmidt’s apartment in the Belmont Commons has become the unofficial epicenter for both Phi Mu Alpha and the social network of the commons as a whole.
“Every weekend you walk in and there are 15 guys all huddled up in the living room playing board games or old Nintendo games,” said Harleston.
As Schmidt’s tenure at Belmont draws to a close, and the number of basketball games he will attend as a member of the pep band dwindle, Schmidt has begun to look more towards the future now perhaps than he ever has before.
From Belmont, Schmidt hopes to have a career in music, but he is not limiting himself too much when it comes to future job opportunities.
“If I could pick a dream job after I leave Belmont it would be a tie between being a composer and making my own music, and being the conductor of a wind symphony orchestra. There are only two I know about in the United States, the Dallas and the Cincinnati wind symphonies, and I feel like the wind instruments are underappreciated and underrepresented especially at the professional level” says Schmidt.
Belmont basketball has played its final game in the Curb Even Center this season, but Schmidt hopes that the impact he, Anderson, and the rest of the pep band will remain at Belmont even after he graduates.
“I started cheering and getting loud during the games mostly just to entertain myself and the other people in the band” recalls Schmidt.
“I didn’t really care what anybody else thought about it. But now that we’re getting bigger and bigger crowds for games and more of us are doing it, you can see that we really are capable of impacting the game at times. I hope the freshmen and underclassmen understand that we’re setting a precedent that we want them to follow.
As the brand of Belmont basketball continues to grow nationally, we hope the future members of the pep band will keep encouraging our team and being as loud as they possibly can be during the games.”
When asked if there were any special plans being made for the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament in two-weeks time, Schmidt would not tip his hand.
“I guess you’ll just have to wait and see.”
If the past serves as any indication, we can expect a completely original, totally off the wall, and laugh-out-loud night of entertainment supplementary to the basketball game on the court, courtesy of Fred Schmidt and his cohorts in the pep band.