On autumn evenings in Morgantown in the shadow of the Coliseum, as the days get shorter and temperatures fall into sweater weather, a chant — matching time with hand claps — echoes across pavement, a parking lot marked out with the white lines of a football field.
“Drop, drop, drop, money, over, under, toss, catch, five, six, seven, eight, flip two, three, four, flip, two, three, four, flip, and up …”
It means nothing to those passing by heading to nearby gyms or out for a walk. But it does to members of the color guard for “The Pride of West Virginia,” the Mountaineer Marching Band, as they march in place while going through their routines using six-foot silver poles hung with flags — also called silks — of gold and blue.
They run one routine. They run it again. Then, they do it once more — all in time with the chant, “drop, drop, toss, catch” or some variation, while the 300+ other members of the band warm up in the same lot, moving in straight lines as a single unit.
In the center of the color guard block is Abbey Barker, a senior industrial engineering major from Charles Town. Her long brown hair pulled back under a black cap, she’s flushed as she turns with the flag, spinning it dozens of times in front of her body, then catching the pole cleanly after throwing it above her head, doing what’s called a “Peggy” toss.
“It’s my fun time of day,” Barker said of these late-afternoon hours following a crush of classes, outside-of-class group meetings, work as a tour guide at the University’s Evansdale Visitors Center and her many other responsibilities as a college student with goals.
“I have always looked at band as my time to step away from classes. It is a class, but I get to not think about homework, not think about exams, and I get to go spend time with some of my best friends doing something I really love.”
During the fall 2022 semester, Thursdays are her busiest days of the week:
- 6:30 a.m. (at the latest) - Alarm goes off to start the day.
- 7:35 a.m. - Park at the Coliseum. Start walk to the engineering buildings on the Evansdale area of campus.
- 8-9:15 a.m. - Class, Plant Layout and Material Handling, NRCCE Building
- 9:15-11 a.m. - Class break, time for homework or group meetings in the Industrial Engineering Lounge
- 11-12:15 p.m. - Class, team facilitation, Engineering Sciences Building
- 12:30-1:45 p.m. - Class, Simulation by Digital Methods, Engineering Sciences Building
- 2-3:15 p.m. - Class, Introduction to Systems Engineering, Allen Hall
- 3:15 p.m. - Travel to band practice field, eat packed lunch in car
- 4-5:50 p.m. - Band rehearsal
- 6-7:30 p.m. - Color guard sectional (A weekly practice just for the color guard.)
- Later - Eat dinner. Work on homework. Try to be in bed by 10:30 p.m. to prepare for class at 8 a.m. Friday.
With all this, Barker also somehow fits in up to 20 hours a week as a campus tour guide — at times driving the smaller tour bus herself while pointing out campus landmarks and sharing facts with prospective students.
“I love it,” she said of her job, which she describes as “Representing the entire University as a student: I love being able to make a difference. It’s given me so much during my time here.”
No matter how much love she has for what she’s doing, her schedule is intimidating.
For Barker, the road to industrial engineering started with a statistics class in high school. “It’s really process improvement,” Barker said of her chosen career field, one focused on improving efficiencies within spaces like hospitals, manufacturing plants and retail stores.
“If you walk into a store like Sam’s Club, the reason behind how everything is laid out involves the work of an industrial engineer. It’s really studying people’s habits and using that, with statistics and science to back it up, to help improve the world.”
So it’s work focused on where best to put things.
At the start of her time in the color guard, though, Barker had no idea where to put herself.
Color guard members learn flag routines and how to translate them to the field.
She had just one year of color guard experience from Washington High School in Jefferson County when she auditioned for the Pride. This was after she decided to attend WVU without even visiting Morgantown. She asks now, “Isn’t that crazy?”
After a rough start, a time when she was convinced she was the worst in the color guard unit and pushed herself to improve, Barker marched in 2018 and 2019, joined the rest of the band members for limited performances due to COVID-19 in 2020, missed 2021 while working for Toyota as part of an engineering co-op in Buffalo, West Virginia, and returned to the field for the 2022 season — three years after last marching in gold and blue.
“I knew I wanted to experience it again,” she said. “The friendships I’ve made in guard, and just in the band in general, have really changed my time here at WVU.”
Getting back to “220-ing” was a challenge.
That’s what it’s called when band members come running out of the tunnels at Milan Puskar Stadium for the iconic pre-game show: “220” because it’s 220 beats per minute with high-knee movement. “Every left step, your right arm goes out with your instrument or flag and then it comes in when your right foot touches the ground,” Barker explains. “All we say is ‘left, left, left, left, left,’ and it just means ‘out, out, out.’”
Taking a moment to catch a breath is not an option as the full band heads straight downfield with “Fight Mountaineers” and “Mountain Dew.”
Her favorite part of pre-game is what comes next — “Simple Gifts,” when the entire band circles up, with members of the color guard running right into the middle of it all, at the very center of Mountaineer Field on home game days.
In front of a crowd of up to 60,000 people, “All you can hear is the drumline. We have the rest of the band around us, but all you can hear is the drummers and you feel it because they’re hitting their drums so hard,” Barker said. “That’s the first time where we can really stand there and look around the entire stadium to soak it all in.”
Time in that inner circle is fleeting for Barker.
She graduates in May 2023, a year later than she originally planned due to the two
semesters she was off campus working for Toyota and with the Disney College Program
in Orlando, Florida. She already has a job lined up as a project engineer with
the Whiting-Turner Contracting Company following a successful internship this past
As she nears the end of her college career, Barker is grateful to have had one more season with band — no matter the time demands.
“You put in so much work. Seeing it all pay off on game day is a very rewarding experience,” she said. “There’s a feeling of nervousness, but also I feel like every time I perform, I just zone in so hard that I get to the end and I’m, like, ‘How did I just do that? What just happened?’”
Fundraising continues through the WVU Foundation for the Pride Practice Facility, the future rehearsal location for the Mountaineer Marching Band. Find out more about the Pride Practice Facility Fund.