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West Virginia is furious about U. of Virginia band's halftime spoof

Wednesday, January 01, 2003

By Bill Schackner, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The spoof about the lack of indoor plumbing years back was bad enough, say West Virginia University football fans, and the reference to a similar lack of birth control was no better.

But on Saturday, during halftime of the Continental Tire Bowl, a University of Virginia pep band that has made a habit of parodying West Virginians finally went too far in the eyes of those tired of seeing their state's people depicted as hillbillies.

The band portrayed a WVU student in bib overalls -- with or without shoes, depending on who tells the story -- and in the days since, hundreds of angry comments have flowed by phone and e-mail to both schools.

Even West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise stepped into the fray. On Monday, he fired off a letter to University of Virginia President John T. Casteen calling the performance classless.

"This type of performance merely perpetuates the unfounded stereotypes that we in West Virginia are fighting so hard to overcome," the governor wrote. "The organizers of the Continental Tire Bowl, the city of Charlotte and most especially the people of the state of West Virginia deserve an apology for this unfortunate incident."

The University of Virginia apologized yesterday.

Call it a hard lesson in the line between good and bad humor. Or, consider it a reason not to leave the stands too quickly after the second quarter ends.

The performance unfolded before approximately 75,000 fans who filled Ericsson Stadium for a game won by Virginia 48-22. During halftime, the student-led pep band staged a parody of the reality show "The Bachelor," in which a male had his choice of two female contestants, one from WVU and the other from Virginia.

"Well, it's going to be a tough choice for our bachelor, deciding between these two bachelorettes," read the script recited by a stadium announcer.

It described the Virginia student as being bound for medical school with plans to be a pediatrician. It said the WVU student "will be heading to California, out to Beverly ... Hills, that is ... swimming pools, movie stars!" -- a reference to the TV show "The Beverly Hillbillies."

Accounts of the performance and how offensive it was varied sharply this week. Becky Lofstead, a WVU spokeswoman, traveled to Charlotte to be in the West Virginia fan section and remembers the WVU "student" being barefoot.

Not so, insisted band director Adam Lorentson, a junior at Virginia.

"She didn't have her teeth blacked out or anything," he said.

Virginia freshman Cody Wright, 17, heard about the performance and believes that to the extent it perpetuated a stereotype, West Virginians "have a legitimate reason to be upset."

Others called it an incredible overreaction.

The band "didn't create the stereotype of the West Virginia hick. We just referenced it," said Jonathan Hukari, 24, who plays trumpet in the Virginia pep band. "People who are offended I think are showing a lack of a sense of humor."

Band members said their performance was approved in advance by the school and by the bowl committee and that it was intended to entertain. Nevertheless, they may be in for some heat.

Lofstead said bowl officials have assured her school that the band will not be invited back to future Tire Bowl games.

WVU President David C. Hardesty Jr. said he was surprised the script was sanctioned given the band's 1985 performance the last time the teams played. Those at both schools described that show as having the references to plumbing and birth control.

"I was disappointed to say the least," Hardesty said of Saturday's performance.

The University of Virginia said it plans to investigate the matter.

"We are sorry that this incident occurred," the school said in a statement yesterday. "We respect our colleagues at WVU and the citizens of West Virginia and do not favor any actions that insult them."

Carol Wood, a school spokeswoman, said administrators want to review a videotape before deciding what action is warranted.

"I know that the script was approved by our promotions department and it was also run by an official at the bowl," she said. "I think it's one thing to read a script and another thing to see it acted out. And I think that's where the difference lies."

"Humor is such a subjective thing," she said.

Bill Schackner can be reached at bschackner@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1977.

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