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    LaTech BOP director reminisces about his days at Arkansas

    'There's nothing like it': Jim Robken shares memories of Barnhill Arena
    Jim Robken was a key figure in Arkansas basketball for more than a decade.

    Andrew Hutchinson • HawgBeat
    @NWAHutch
    3D777F0C-58BE-48F1-A282-84D36F86CA82.jpg
    FAYETTEVILLE — Early in his tenure as the director of Arkansas’ Hogwild Band, Jim Robken received a call from Eddie Sutton’s secretary asking if he had time to meet with the coach.

    Well, yeah. Are you kidding me?

    An Arkansas native who grew up cheering for the Razorbacks and idolizing Frank Broyles, Robken wasn’t going to turn down an opportunity to meet with the man who just led the basketball team to its first Final Four appearance in more than three decades.

    Little did Robken know, he was about to become a key figure in Arkansas cementing itself as a national hoops powerhouse. Jim, I’ve got some ideas, Sutton told him when he got to his office.

    “He proceeded to teach me the game of basketball,” Robken said, “and told me about all the little things that he wanted to accomplish with the fans and how he was trying to build the fan enthusiasm at the games and the kinds of things he would do to make sure it happens.”

    That included learning the cue for when Sutton was about to get a technical - “He never got one by accident,” Robken said - and knowing what to do at certain moments of games depending on the score.

    It was invaluable information for someone who played basketball in junior high, albeit admittedly not very well. Sutton continued by telling the 28-year-old graduate assistant that the University of Houston’s “Cougar Brass” pep band epitomized what he had in mind.

    Robken didn’t hesitate to accept an invitation to travel with the team to their next game at Houston’s Hofheinz Pavilion. After riding in the plane with Sidney Moncrief, U.S. Reed and the other 1978-79 Razorbacks, he watched them squeak out a 62-61 win to open SWC play. More importantly, though, he kept an eye on the band.

    “I observed them and saw what they did and they were truly awesome,” Robken said. “So I watched and then I had a great idea of what it was (Sutton) was after.”

    Thus began Robken’s ascent into Razorback lore, which he’s somewhat uncomfortable with to this day.

    However, with Arkansas set to play its annual Red-White game inside Barnhill Arena - where he whipped thousands of fans into a frenzy for a decade-plus - at 3 p.m. Saturday, he was gracious enough to reminisce with HawgBeat during a 40-minute phone conversation Thursday morning…

    William Tell Overture

    Growing up in various towns across south Arkansas, Robken graduated from El Dorado High School and then obtained his undergraduate degree at Louisiana Tech.

    A Razorback fan from birth, he decided to attend the University of Arkansas to pursue his master’s in music theory and composition. It was during his second year in Fayetteville when Robken was awarded a graduate assistantship by Director of Bands Eldon Janzen.

    His primary role was to serve as the band director of the Hogwild Band for basketball, while also helping with the Razorback Marching Band for football. The first arrangement he was in charge of with the band was William Tell Overture and something clicked.

    “I thought, ‘Man, how much fun that is,’” Robken said. “I liked the piece and it just seemed to inspire energy, just the music itself, no matter what context it was.”

    With his conversation with Sutton and new role in mind, he sat down and did a sketch of the piece for the Hogwild Band. This was during a time when musicians had to write out the individual parts by hand and Robken did his best to tailor-make it for the Razorbacks, working in a cheer at the beginning and end.

    When he debuted the piece at Barnhill Arena, it was an instant hit.

    “It was really amazing,” Robken said. “You just try so many things and some of them stick. Well, this one stuck and it was a hit from the get-go.”

    Of course, what made it special were his antics during the song, which evolved over time.

    One of Sutton’s requests was that he help sustain the energy of the crowd across a timeout, so opposing coaches couldn’t use it to stop Arkansas’ momentum. In an attempt to do just that, one game Robken motioned for the entire side of Barnhill - which he thought were all students - to stand up.

    Instead, only the first couple of sections complied, so he handed his baton to a flute player and decided to go ask the other section himself. When those fans - who weren’t students, but rather older fans - eventually stood up, the place went crazy. As Robken jogged back to the band, he gave students high fives as Barnhill reached a fever pitch.

    “I got back up to the top and the whole place was just… It was awesome,” Robken said, struggling to find the right words. “You could only have this in Barnhill because of the intimacy, where the sound was physical, where you felt the crowd, the cheering.

    “You couldn't talk to each other because it was that loud. There's nothing like it. What a thrill. It's primal, you know?”

    Naturally, the next time they played the William Tell Overture, the students pointed at Robken and yelled for him to run down to the court again. From that point on, it became a staple at Arkansas games.

    Robken eventually started running a lap around the court, never failing to fire up the crowd. It led to some funny encounters, such as the first time he did the lap on the concourse above the first level of seats. In his haste to get around the arena and having never been to that area, he accidentally ran into the women’s restroom.

    Befriending Referees

    Most of Robken’s favorite memories, though, have to do with his interactions with referees. During his time leading the Hogwild Band, he got to know several of the Southwest Conference mainstays and developed friendships.

    During a timeout in a game in Pine Bluff, Robken said he locked eyes with Paul Galvan - who later became the head of officials for the SWC - and the ref called him out by name before asking, When are you going to run, buddy? Come on!

    Robken happily obliged.

    His other favorite story happened at Barnhill and involved Moose Stubing, who was described as “kind of a portly guy and bald.” As Robken neared the end of a jaunt around the court, he noticed Stubing standing near the corner leading back to the band. Then the ref stepped out and put his hand in the air.

    “I jumped and he jumped and we both did a high five and I went on back up,” Robken said. “Well, the place just went nuts. I mean, it was pretty cool.”

    After the game, Robken sought out Stubing and asked him what had inspired the spontaneous high five. I couldn’t help it, he said, and then took out of his wallet a baseball card from his days as a player, minor league manager and MLB assistant coach. It was a gift for the band director, who said he still has the card all these years later.

    ‘Perfect Storm’

    Although his tenure with the Razorbacks started in the late-1970s and stretched into the early-1990s, Robken’s heyday was during the 1980s. It was the best possible time for him to be in that role, as a “perfect storm” of factors came together.

    In addition to Arkansas’ success - it won 74.3 percent of its games while Robken was in charge, including 88.7 percent in Barnhill - it was also the decade before what he calls the “commercialization of college athletics.”

    Jumbotrons and artificial music piped in over the P.A. system became popular during the 1990s and has only grown in prevalence in the years since. These days, band directors wear a headset and have marketing people coordinating when they can and can’t play.

    “The change has been difficult for all of us, all over the nation,” Robken said. “The commercials, they’ve really taken bands out of it and that's sad. … We really did have an impact on the games, I know we did.”

    However, that wasn’t the case when Robken was running the show in Barnhill. Playing from their loft, the 60-70 members of the Hogwild Band could crank out music whenever it was needed.

    It also allowed Robken to become a figure as synonymous with Arkansas basketball as Sutton, Moncrief, Nolan Richardson, Todd Day, Lee Mayberry and others. Ask any fan of a certain age about games at Barnhill Arena and they’ll almost certainly mention his name.

    “I never set out for (fame) and I'm still uncomfortable with it,” Robken said. “I just don't feel like it's about me. It's about the Arkansas program and its tradition. I’m just so honored to be a part of that.”

    Where Is He Now?

    Starting out as a graduate assistant, Robken climbed the ladder during his 13-year run leading the Hogwild Band. By the late-1980s, he had been promoted to marching band director, putting him in charge of the athletics side of the music program.

    In the fall of 1991, he made the difficult decision to leave Fayetteville and become the Director of Bands at his alma mater, Louisiana Tech. The move put him in charge of the entire program - similar to an offensive coordinator becoming a head coach.

    Robken didn’t plan to stay in Ruston, La., long. He hoped to get his doctorate and see where that took him. Instead, 28 years later, neither thing happened - he didn’t have time to pursue the doctorate and he’s still in the same position. “It just turned out to be really great,” Robken said.

    A couple of years after his departure, Arkansas moved into the much larger Bud Walton Arena. Before that, though, the Razorbacks had a celebration to officially turn out the lights in Barnhill following an 88-75 win over LSU.

    Among those invited back for the ceremony was Robken, who spoke to the crowd following Richardson and symbolically put the “spirit of Barnhill” into a crystal that would be taken to Arkansas’ new home. “It meant everything,” Robken said. “It was awesome.”

    Since then, Robken has been to Arkansas a few times. In 1996, he brought a pep band to War Memorial Stadium for Louisiana Tech’s 38-21 loss to the Razorbacks - “It was kind of weird,” he said - and then 10 years later, he returned to Fayetteville to celebrate Arkansas winning the Sudler Trophy, the highest honor for college marching bands.

    Unfortunately, prior obligations will prevent Robken from attending Saturday’s Red-White game in Barnhill Arena. He’s followed the news with great interest via Facebook and talked to several former students “remembering the good ‘ol days” from his time at Arkansas.

    “I am just honored to have been a part of it,” Robken said. “I’m so lucky I was there at that time because it could have only happened at that time.

    “I grew up being a Razorback and Frank Broyles was one of my heroes. … It’s just a product of the program and the fans and the state. You do not grow up in Arkansas without being a Razorback fan. You can’t.”
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    Re: BOP director reminisces about his days at Arkansas

    Quote Originally Posted by Dawgpix View Post
    In addition to Arkansas’ success - it won 74.3 percent of its games while Robken was in charge, including 88.7 percent in Barnhill - it was also the decade before what he calls the “commercialization of college athletics.”

    Jumbotrons and artificial music piped in over the P.A. system became popular during the 1990s and has only grown in prevalence in the years since. These days, band directors wear a headset and have marketing people coordinating when they can and can’t play.

    “The change has been difficult for all of us, all over the nation,” Robken said. “The commercials, they’ve really taken bands out of it and that's sad. … We really did have an impact on the games, I know we did.”
    This part struck a cord with me... (pun intended). I agree very much with this part. I think this falls into the category of the Law of Unintended Consequences. The commercials have actual dollars that you can SEE when they play, but the trade-off is taking away from the activity in the stands. When they play the commercial, the band can't play, the fans don't chat, dance, cheer along; just simply watch a commercial (that's usually so loud you couldn't carry a conversation if you wanted to)

    There is a place for pipped in music and commercials, but we aren't good with doing that. Particularly when the BOP goes down to the field in the last 5-6 minutes of the 2nd quarter and when they are getting back into the stands at the beginning of the 3rd. Those are times that we MUST get a QUALITY "First down" medley and there you can do the "Fan song" of the game (freakin' Wagon Wheel... again?!?!) The rest of the time, just let the game go without commercials. Have the sponsors just get banners, or sponsoring the certain play type or replay. To do this the BOP would need to expand the musical selection as well. Horse and Neck seem to be all we do lately.

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