Group Shot 3New Jerseyians can say the Super Bowl was in their backyard this year, but for some lucky ones, they were right on the field!

Fifty students and seven chaperones from the Mt. Olive High School Marching Band were invited to act as casted fans on Sunday, Feb. 2, during the Super Bowl 48 Halftime show at MetLife Stadium in Rutherford. The MOHS band was among 2,000 total students from schools throughout NJ who were asked to participate in different capacities.

The opportunity was one MO band members would not march away from.

When offered, “For us it was an easy decision,” says John Di Egidio, associate director of MOHS bands. This was a “once in a lifetime opportunity. We don’t know when the Super Bowl will be in the area again. It was such an experience to our students,” to be in front of 80,000 people in the audience, to be part of 2,000 participants, and be televised to one hundred million people.

Di Egidio received an email in early January from the casting manager of the Super Bowl Show asking if anyone would be interested in being in the show. Band members from schools all around NJ were asked to be LED holders- those who hold the lights; while band members, cheerleaders and dance squad members were asked to serve as casted fans.

Student band members from MO in grades nine through 12 joined 900 other students from other high schools such as Sparta and Hackettstown to serve as casted fans.

Out of the 80 students in the MOHS band, 50 were able to commit to the six blackout rehearsal dates. Students, teachers, parents all had to sign a confidentiality agreement to prohibit them from discussing their expected participation because of security reasons and other issues. If news was spread on Facebook, Twitter or other outlets, organizations would be cut from the show.

MO fans started out situated near the band’s drum set, five to eight feet to the left of Super Bowl 2014 entertainer Bruno Mars who played drums and sang during the half time performance.

“Bruno walked through Mt. Olive (fans) to get to the drums,” explains Di Egidio.

During the rehearsals, there wound up being two, MO had to practice running on to the field. Their second location as casted fans was up on stage.

Rehearsals were held at the Morristown Armory, in which 900 people were taught field movements and how they would be getting off and on the field. The second rehearsal was held at the MetLife football stadium the Thursday prior to the big day. Participants went through three runs of the show, watching Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chile Peppers perform, and observed a sample of the fireworks.

As casted fans, students were told “you are to be acted as casted fans,” explains Di Egidio. “Your job is to act like you are at a Bruno Mars concert,” to be jumping up and down, dancing.

“This is why they picked marching band students,” explains Di Egidio, because marching band performances last 10 to 15 minutes, and marching band members are conditioned for constant movement and playing an instrument for an extended time.

For the 12 minute Super Bowl half time show, “you are constantly jumping up and down, dancing, screaming. Singing was encouraged. They were taught double fist pump; both fists up in the air jumping up and down, cheering him on,” he says.

Students had strict guidelines like no cell phones and had to wear “club sheik” clothing in grays, browns, blacks or muted colors; no neon or bright colors, no big logos, no huge hats. “Look attractive but be warm.

The MO school district provided two busses and all transportation to students for rehearsals and game day.

All 2,000 participants were stationed at the AMC Theater in Clifton at 3 p.m. The plan was to provide a live feed of the pre-game Super Bowl show to those waiting at the theater, but with technical difficulties “We sat in a dark movie theater for three hours,” says Di Egidio, eating food from Panera Bread.

“Since day one, it was made clear ‘you will not be watching the game; you will be bussed in and bussed out. You are not watching the game, you are in the show.’”

Students left the theater at 6:30 p.m., traveled down Route 3, which was shut down, to allow 40 busses by police escort get to MetLife Stadium without delays. Upon arrival, students went through metal detectors and were patted down for security. They “ran in, did show, ran outside right onto the (MO) busses” with eight minutes left in the third quarter when they were pulling out of the stadium, describes Di Egidio, and were back in MO right at the game’s end.

Although Thursday’s practice was freezing, some wore five layers, game day was a mild 46 degrees. “They were outside the whole second quarter.

“It was a wonderful experience for all of them,” says Di Egidio. As Bruno Mars was passing through the MO fans during that Thursday practice, “he reached his hand out” to one of MO’s female band members and “he gave her a half hug.”

“The girl had tears of joy to meet her idol like that,” says Di Egidio. “He seemed like the nicest guy. He didn’t have to go out of his way to say ‘hi’ to us. The guy is always smiling, he’s always happy.” Students had to act respectfully and were told they could not ask for autographs from Bruno Mars or the Red Hot Chile Peppers.

About five students who taped the game from home, found themselves in the crowd.

“I thought it was cool going on the field with everyone there,” says senior student Michael Lalama of Flanders, MOHS marching band drum major. Everyone in the stands had headbands with LED lights that “lit up the stadium.” Although he had performed on that field before with the marching band for a competition, the “energy” of being on that field “with so many people,” was an amazing experience.

“It was exciting,” says senior Sam Halper, clarinet player in the MOHS band, but “weird” that “it was all a secret; we didn’t know what we were doing until the first rehearsal. Although she is not a big fan of either entertainer, she wanted to participate because “it seemed like something fun to do the day of the Super Bowl,” she says. To be “only about 50 feet away from them, cheering, jumping up and down, it was fun.”

Di Egidio concludes, “It was an incredible experience, once in a lifetime. We are grateful we have a district that supports us in that.”

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Cheryl Conway

Cheryl Conway has been a freelance writer for the past 17 years, covering a wide range of topics filled with details. She has B.S. degree from the University of Maryland, College Park, and a minor in English. You can find her on Facebook