PASADENA, Calif. — When Michigan State University takes on Stanford University on New Year’s Day in the 100th edition of the Rose Bowl, thousands of fans will be watching from the stands within the stadium or from the comfort of their living rooms back home in Michigan.
But only a select few will have the rare opportunity to stand on the field itself, to take center stage and be a part of a truly historic event.
On Wednesday, three of those select few will be representing their hometowns of Greenville and Belding as they march in the 300-member Michigan State University Spartan Marching Band.
Greenville High School graduates and sisters Mikayla Robinson and Megan Robinson, along with Belding High School graduate Allison Granzo, will both march in the 125th Rose Bowl Parade and perform in the 100th edition of the Rose Bowl during halftime.
It’s been a long time since Michigan State University was last represented in “the granddaddy of them all” of college football bowl games, 26 years in fact, and now the three students will have a chance to take part in history by playing for and cheering on their team.
“I’m very excited,” said Mikayla Robinson, a 2011 Greenville High School graduate and junior tenor saxophone player. “I’m excited for myself and for the seniors especially, and our director, John Madden. It’s his first time going too. It’s a really exciting time.”
The three girls flew with their bandmates to California on Sunday and have already began practicing for the big day.
They will march in the Rose Parade at 11 a.m. Eastern time Wednesday, a 5.7-mile trek that outpaces anything they have done previously, either in college or high school, before performing at the game at 5 p.m. Eastern time Wednesday.
“It’s longer than anything we’ve ever marched before,” said Mikayla Robinson of the parade. “It’s really exciting, something new. We’re really looking forward to the chance to go out there and show California and the rest of the United States what the Spartan Marching Band is all about.”
Mikayla’s sister, Megan, a 2013 Greenville High School graduate and freshman trombone player in the band, said she’s nervous for the upcoming game but knows the experience will be worth the effort.
“It is really nerve-racking, but it’s really exciting at the same time,” she said. “I’ve been asking Mikayla for a lot of advise. I’ve never been on a plane and haven’t really traveled before except with the high school band.”
Megan said being with so many peers who are also traveling to the game for the first time will ease her tensions.
“Being surrounded by 300 plus people who are going through the same thing, and having that family surrounding you, it takes away some of the pressure, but I think everybody will be able to handle it fine,” she said.
Both students are stepping in the shoes of their high school band director at Greenville High School, Susan Gould.
Both she and her husband, Bob Gould, marched in the 1988 Rose Bowl as members of the Spartan Marching Band— Susan on alto saxophone and Bob on the trumpet.
It was the last time Michigan State University made the trip to the game, creating a new and special bond between teacher and student.
Seeing her former students now making the trip, Susan Gould said it’s an experience the validates the time and effort that each of her students put toward making music a part of their lives.
“As a teacher, my goal is always to give students tools and experiences that they can apply later on in life, whether it’s in college or adulthood,” she said. “This is me seeing one of my exit goals coming true — participating in something that enriches their lives.”
Gould, who marched for four years and made additional trips to other bowls, said the Rose Bowl is above and beyond one of the greatest experiences she received while in the band.
“Being able to experience the Rose Bowl, well it’s the granddaddy of them all,” she said. “It’s an historic event for Michigan State because we haven’t been able to field teams in the past that had the opportunity to go to Pasadena and represent their own identity. Bob and I both marched in 1988, and now Mikayla and Megan get a chance.”
Both Susan and Bob, who met in the band before eventually getting married, have returned to Pasadena with their two children to watch the parade and game as fans.
On Sunday evening, the family watched Mikayla, Megan and Allison as they practiced at a local college in California in preparation for the game.
“It’s really cool to be able to go back,” Bob Gould said. “We always said, when the team goes to the Rose Bowl, we’re going to figure out how to get there. It’s been too long and we wanted to go again. We were ready to back our bags two years ago.”
Bob Gould said the experience for him as a student was life-changing, and he’s expecting the same for Mikayla, Megan, Allison and their fellow band members.
“We had a lifelong trip,” he said. “The biggest thing was when we got to the stadium and marched the pre-game show. We had no idea there were so many Spartan fans there. I just couldn’t believe it. That to me was one of the most spectacular and emotional parts of the trip, to see how excited they were to see us.”
The Goulds aren’t the only local connection to the Michigan State Rose Bowl history.
Former Greenville High School and Greenville Middle School Band Director Keith Hudson also marched in the Rose Bowl —48 years ago in 1966.
It was a different era when Hudson marched, as he played the clarinet, an instrument no longer included in the band. The band was also only inclusive to men at the time.
Keith and his wife, Jean, have also made a return trip to Pasadena to watch the game on Wednesday in person.
“It’s hard to remember, it was so long ago, but we took two airplanes to get there, having to stop and refuel in Denver,” he said. “It was an amazing experience.”
Keith said his time in the band was special, watching Michigan State football legends Bubba Smith and George Webster take the field under the coaching guidance of head coach Duffy Daugherty.
Keith said seeing a connection of Greenville High School to the Rose Bowl today is something the high school music program can be very proud of.
”I think it’s really cool,” he said. “It makes you really proud of what we’ve done, knowing that the kids continue to play on another level.”
For Mikayla, Megan and Allison, continuing to play music in college is something that remains very important to them, and they can look back at their high school experiences as a stepping stone that got them to where they are now.
“In high school, music was a big thing for me,” Megan Robinson said. “Seeing Mikayla perform in the marching band really made me want to have that same experience. It’s a great way to make friends, especially coming to a new school with thousands of people. Even though it’s a lot of hard work and time, spending that time with those people specifically has been great. It’s different and more challenging from high school, but it’s also more rewarding.”
Knowing that her high school band director will be there in person to watch her and her sister, Megan Robinson said it’s something she won’t forget.
“We’re her students and the fact that she was also in the Spartan Marching Band, that really motivated us,” she said. “She really encouraged us throughout our time in high school and during our auditions to be in this band.”