Ma­jor break­through

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - SPORTS - Brooke Pryor bpryor@ok­la­homan.com

Julie Sib­erts was set on be­com­ing OU’s first fe­male drum ma­jor the mo­ment she learned she was ac­cepted. Nearly three years later, Sib­erts fi­nally did it and is drum­ming up change.

NOR­MAN — As Julie Sib­erts read the letter of­fer­ing her ad­mis­sion to Ok­la­homa nearly three years ago, she turned to her mom, Lau­rel, with a wide grin on her face.

“I’m go­ing to be the drum ma­jor of the Pride,” she an­nounced.

The fact that the march­ing band had never had a fe­male drum ma­jor — not once in more than 100 years — didn’t faze the de­ter­mined red­head.

She was go­ing to be the per­son to lead the band across Owen Field, the one to throw back her feather-capped head and pa­rade proudly from the 50-yard line to the end zone, swing­ing her scepter-shaped mace to the rhythm of the state song. She was sure of it. “Julie’s a per­son that if she says she’s go­ing to do some­thing, you’re not sur­prised when she does it,” Lau­rel said. “Be­cause if she puts her mind to it, she’s go­ing to do it.”

Still, as she and the rest of her fam­ily gath­ered to hear Julie de­liver the news over speak­er­phone in early Fe­bru­ary, tears of joy flowed freely as her daugh­ter told them she had ful­filled her pre­dic­tion.

Julie Sib­erts would be the first fe­male drum ma­jor of the Ok­la­homa Pride.

“I hope that maybe this will en­cour­age more girls to go out for the po­si­tion,” the ju­nior told The Ok­la­homan. “I don’t think any­body would ever say, ‘I can’t go out for it, I’m a girl.’ But I’m hop­ing peo­ple will see me in this po­si­tion and think, ‘That’s what I want to do.’”

It’s not that the Pride dis­cour­aged women from fill­ing the drum ma­jor role in the past, or even that women didn’t au­di­tion.

Brian Britt, the di­rec­tor of the Pride, es­ti­mates half a dozen women have been drum ma­jor fi­nal­ists in the last 16 years.

“I think if you look at the era since Ti­tle IX, as girls have be­come more ath­letic … it’s made a dif­fer­ence in their fitness level,” Britt said. “The strut is tremen­dously phys­i­cal, and you have to have abil­ity to have flex­i­bil­ity and the strength to do it.”

If ever there was a per­fect can­di­date to fi­nally crack the Pride’s glass ceil­ing, it’s Julie Sib­erts.

A fourth-gen­er­a­tion Ok­la­homa mu­sic ma­jor, Julie comes from a fam­ily that traces its mu­si­cal Sooner roots back to her great-grand­par­ents’ or­gan and piano ma­jors.

Lau­rel, a Lawton na­tive, not only was in the color guard, but her hus­band, Mike, was a mem­ber of the drum­line.

The two met play­ing in the Pride at the Cot­ton Bowl, and a year later, Mike got down on one knee after OU lost to Texas and pro­posed to Lau­rel in front of the en­tire band.

Even after the cou­ple moved out­side of Wash­ing­ton, D.C., so Mike could join Per­sh­ing’s Own, a United States Army Band, as a Master Sergeant per­cus­sion­ist, their older daugh­ter, Me­lanie, went back to her par­ents’ roots and en­rolled at OU, quickly join­ing the Pride.

Like her mom, she be­came a mem­ber of the color guard.

But it wasn’t un­til Julie ar­rived in Nor­man to au­di­tion for a spot in the se­lec­tive mu­sic pro­gram and talked with Britt that she made up her mind to con­tinue the fam­ily tra­di­tion.

After just a year of play­ing trum­pet with the Pride, Julie em­barked on her mis­sion to be­come the drum ma­jor.

She be­gan pre­par­ing months be­fore the au­di­tion, bundling up to work on the all-im­por­tant strut on Pride Field on brisk Novem­ber and De­cem­ber evenings.

Not want­ing to prac­tice in front of an au­di­ence, Julie only went out to the fields on Tues­day nights when the color guard was prac­tic­ing, po­si­tion­ing her­self as far away from them as pos­si­ble.

Only Me­lanie rec­og­nized her out there, watch­ing her sis­ter strut the same 10 yards over and over as she per­fected the kick and the ex­treme back arch.

After color guard prac­tice, Me­lanie would walk over to her sis­ter and help her with the move­ments that felt so for­eign and un­nat­u­ral.

After mak­ing it through a pre­lim­i­nary round, Julie be­gan the fi­nal au­di­tion process dur­ing the band’s prepa­ra­tion for the Sugar Bowl along­side two other fi­nal­ists, another woman, and a man.

Along with do­ing the strut, com­plete with the kicks, Julie had to con­duct a half­time show from the pre­vi­ous year and go through an in­ter­view — all in front of the 300-per­son band and staff.

As soon as Julie fin­ished the in­ter­view, Britt and the rest of the band knew.

Julie was the best can­di­date for the job.

“Julie was the first one that ev­ery­one felt like, ‘Man, she’s got it,’” Britt said. “The vot­ing re­flected that. I was ex­cited to see that it went down that way. It felt just a like nat­u­ral thing. It wasn’t like, ‘We need to have a woman drum ma­jor.’

“In­stead, it was, ‘Here’s the best one. She’s a woman. Awe­some.’”

The day after Julie’s se­lec­tion, Britt drove his daugh­ter Avery to her fifth grade class.

She’s more than six years away from head­ing to col­lege, but Avery al­ready is think­ing about her fu­ture dreams — dreams that seem even more pos­si­ble thanks to Julie.

“Hey Daddy,” she said that morn­ing, “you know how I said I want to be in the Pride in col­lege?

“Now, I can be the drum ma­jor.”

[PHOTO BY STEVE SISNEY, THE OK­LA­HOMAN]

Ju­nior mu­sic ed­u­ca­tion ma­jor Julie Sib­erts is the first woman to be elected to as the Pride of Ok­la­homa’s drum ma­jor in its 113-year his­tory.

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