VALDOSTA, Ga. (WTXL) — Valdosta State University is raising money to send its band, cheerleaders and dance team to the 2021 NCAA football Division II National Championship in McKinney, Texas on Dec. 18.
The Blazers are playing Ferris State on Saturday at 9 p.m. eastern time and the school is raising money through their "Blazer Spirit Fund" to help the Blazer spirit travel to Texas and support the team.
As of Dec. 15, the Blazer Spirit Fund has raised more than $60,000 of their $75,000 goal, according to VSU Vice President for University Advancement John Crawford. Gifts have been as small as $5 and as large as $10,000 so far, Crawford told ABC 27.
The money is having to be fundraised because, unlike the Blazers football team, the trip is not subsidized by the NCAA. The Blazer Spirit Fund is exclusively for the marching band, dance team and cheerleading team, Crawford said.
All the spirit teams will be at the national championship game, but more funding would be appreciated to help them meet their goal, according to Crawford.
"I am very confident that we will meet our goal by Friday," Crawford said. "We are close enough to send the Blazin' Brigade Marching Band, the cheerleaders and the Red Hots dance team to the national championship."
VSU Director of Bands Ben Harper explained how the budgeting works for the band during the football season as it relates to the postseason and championship game.
"For the band, we typically budget for the regular football season," Harper said. "So anything in playoffs or at the national championship level is kind of a bonus."
There are about 130 band members in the VSU Blazin' Brigade Marching Band and the money raised will go directly to student band member expenses like hotel rooms, meals and buses, according to Harper.
Harper added that they are more prepared this year than when the Blazers football team went to the national championship in 2018. For 2021, Harper said that plans began to be thought up mid-season, just in case they made it to the championship.
While in McKinney, the band has three main jobs: perform at the pep rally, perform during the game while in the stands and perform their halftime show on the field. The national championship halftime show theme? Michael Jackson.
"The students are so excited to go. They look forward to this because they get to be a part of the success of the football team and they get to be there to cheer them on," Harper said. "These students have been at every single home game plus a few away games throughout the season. The band is kind of the traveling student section in some respects. So, to be a part of it, they just are so excited."
Performing alongside the Blazin' Brigade during their Michael Jackson-themed halftime show will be the seven-time national champion VSU Red Hots Dance Team.
Red Hots head coach Kelli Fields told ABC 27 that there are 20 members of the dance team who will be traveling to McKinney for the national championship game and that they are excited for the opportunity to help cheer on the Blazers in the title game for the second time in three years.
"We have been blessed to get to go to the national championship game the last four times that VSU has gone," Fields said. "We are so excited to be able to get to go back this year as well."
Typically, the spirit teams have not performed at away playoff football games, but since the Blazers football team had home-field advantage throughout the 2021 NCAA Division II Playoffs, they have been there for every down of Blazers playoff football.
On the same charter bus heading out to McKinney, Texas as the Red Hots Dance Team is the five-time national champion VSU cheerleading team. The VSU Cheer Team is sending 12 of the 18 members of their co-ed team to McKinney, as rules restrict the amount of cheer team members on the field to just 12.
Even though they will be down six members, head coach Desiree Fagan told ABC 27 that the team is excited to be a part of something bigger as they cheer on the football squad.
"At this age and at this level, they're all just excited to be a part of something bigger than themselves," Fagan said. "While they are not actually on the field playing, they are the first ones on the field on game day practicing routines. They are the last ones to leave after the football team goes into the locker room. So, to have been a part of that journey all year and get to cheer them on it feels just as much a victory for them as it does for the school itself."
The Blazin' Brigade Marching Band, Red Hots dance team and the VSU Cheer Team will be leaving Valdosta on Thursday at 8:30 a.m. to head to Texas for the game. All three will be a part of the festivities pre-game and during the game on Saturday. The full schedule of events can be found by clicking here.
Donation amount increments on their website range from $25 to $2,500 as well as an "other" option. You can help the spirit squads out by clicking here.