Though Brian and Heather Brdak are devoted Michigan State University Spartan football fans, they couldn’t be prouder of their son, Blake’s, accomplishments at their No. 1 rival school, the University of Michigan Wolverines.
“I wear my Michigan gear and cheer for them,” Brian Brdak said of attending games at the Big House in Ann Arbor. “We are die-hard Spartans but right now I’m a Wolverine dad.”
Blake Brdak, 21, of New Baltimore, is the drum major for the U-M Marching Band, serving as the inspirational and educational student leader of the 400-member renowned unit. He performs the famous back bend and baton toss-and-catch over the goal post, among other things, before each home game.
Blake Brdak said he feels hometown pride at every game when he is announced to the packed Big House as hailing from “New Baltimore, Michigan.”
“It’s awesome to be able to represent New Baltimore,” he said. “I love that they say it every game. Every once in a while during the game I’ll be walking around and someone in the stands will shout down to me about Anchor or New Baltimore. I’ll say, ‘Yes!’ That’s awesome.”
Brian Brdak said he chokes up every time he sees his son perform or views a replay.
“The first time we saw him come out onto the field at the stadium was just amazing,” he said. “It’s awesome to hear our local community announced in front of 100,000 people. … I was especially nervous at the first game, and of course so proud when either of my children have the opportunity to do what they love.”
Brdak was selected as the 58th drum major early this year from an inital group of 15 band members who applied. The entire band voted from among a handful of finalists, and selected Blake after the final audition last spring when he and the other aspirants marched, twirled and did other things in front of the band.
“He is just fantastic,” said Marching Band Director John Pasquale. “He’s a fantastic performer and a wonderful educator and motivator, and inspiring and compassionate.”
Blake played trumpet in the band the prior three years and aspired to be the drum major after serving in the same role for the Anchor Bay High School Marching Band. His effort for the post in his junior year in 2022 at U-M was cut short when he dislocated his knee while performing in the band at a women’s basketball game.
“It’s been absolutely everything I hoped for and dreamed of,” he said. “It’s been an honor to represent the band and the University of Michigan.”
One of his biggest responsibilities in addition to his game-day performance is teaching the younger members how to march and perform.
He said he gives a speech “every once in a while” to the band but concentrates more on befriending all 400 members.
“I have 400 best friends,” he said.
Band members’ participation can be intense especially in light of their academic duties, as well.
“We’re busy, but we all love doing it,” said Brdak, who is studying computer engineering.
His dad said Blake is familiar with a full schedule so it wasn’t too big of an adjustment.
“From a young age he always had a lot of things going on,” Brian said.
Blake also plays in the men’s and women’s basketball bands, where he plays the trumpet, and plays the instrument for the Boston Crusaders Drum and Bugle Corps of Drum Corps International.
There is a two-week band camp each August during which the band practices over 12 hours a day. During the season, home-game weeks consist of about 20 hours of practice and rehearsal, while away-game weeks consist of less than half of that.
Game week, the band rehearses for two hours a day Monday through Thursday, two hours Friday night and another two hours at 7 a.m. Saturday for a noon game. They take a break and relax at a tailgate and return to Revelli Band Rehearsal Hall, from where Brdak leads the band in a spirited march by cadence to the stadium alongside spectators lined three or four people deep.
In the stadium, Brdak high steps it as he darts onto the field and performs the back bend that he said he spent three or four months perfecting.
“It took a lot of practice, a lot of stretching,” he said.
He twirls the baton, runs over to the goal post and tosses the baton thought the uprights, guaranteeing a win for the team when he catches it, which he has always done amid “a lot of pressure,” he said.
During the game, the band sits in the crowd and continues to perform with pre-selected music and cheers. Brdak’s responsibilities lessen at that time, and he said he is able to watch from the sidelines, where he talks to visitors and enjoys the game.
Game days are long and energy-sapping but worth it, he said. After the game, “It’s a good feeling. It’s a long day but it’s rewarding.”
A special moment came at the home game on Sept. 23, which was Blake Brdak’s birthday, when his maternal grandparents, Don (a U-M graduate) and Grace Guthrie, 81 and 80 respectively, attended and were announced to the crowd.
“It was overwhelming,” Brian Brdak said.
Other family members have been attending other home games. Brian Brdak said he has rustled up six to eight tickets for each game.
At the next home game, the band’s show will consist of classical music selections with the theme, “Tales as Old as Time,” Pasquale said.
In addition to the home games, the band will travel this year to two away games – Oct. 21 at MSU and Nov. 25 at Ohio State University, Blake said.
During halftime of the MSU game, Brdak will perform his normal pre-game show, his father said.
Brian Brdak said he and his son are hoping Michigan makes the NCAA college football playoffs and marches at the Rose Bowl in Pasedena, Calif., which is hosting one of the semi-final games. The band would also take part in the iconic Rose Parade, a 135-year tradition.
The elder Brdak, a former county commissioner who is operations chief for Macomb County Clerk Anthony Forlini, said he has learned to appreciate the unique nature of college athletics and the respite and camaraderie it can provide during these days of stark political and social divisions.
He also appreciates what it means to both of his children. His daughter, Karly, is a freshman at Marymount Manhattan College in New York City, where she is studying dance.
He attributes some of his children’s talent in music and movement to their participation starting at age 1 in Kindermusik International in which the child and parent listen and dance to music together in a social setting so children can “begin to understand and anticipate patterns, which preps their brains for math and musical theory,” according to the organization.
Blake has played many musical instruments, including playing guitar in the Anchor Bay jazz band.