Founding UC Irvine band member Alan Niizawa will be honored today for an unbroken 20-year string of performances with the basketball pep band.
"I've gone to every home game for the last 20 years," said Niizawa, a 37-year-old marketing specialist at Disneyland. "I've seen all their wins and all their losses. It's fun, even when we lose."
It will be a bittersweet celebration. Niizawa plans to unplug his electric bass in March after the end of the basketball season.
"Twenty years is a nice milestone to reach," he said. "I hope I can come back and sit in once in a while."
Niizawa was a freshman in 1975 when he joined the band being organized by then-UCI student Scott Fier, now a Saddleback College chemistry professor. Niizawa played drums for the first decade and has since switched off on clarinet, saxophone and electric bass. In the early years, community members were encouraged to join the band.
"We're not a marching band, we're a big rock 'n' roll band," Niizawa said of the 30-member group, whose repertoire ranges from the Rolling Stones to the Talking Heads.
At halftime during today's game against University of the Pacific, Niizawa will be presented with a basketball jersey and a scrapbook detailing the band's exploits. Band members have performed in their pajamas "just for the shock value" and once staged an elaborate tribute to the nonexistent UCI football team.
Niizawa, who also plays in a surf band, met his wife, Tracey Hodge, in the university band. She plays the piccolo.
Alfred Lang, chair of the UCI music department, said Niizawa is the glue that has held the band together through its lean years. "He's seen the program through its ups and downs," Lang said. "He made sure the band existed."