Pep prez: Ferris’ Eisler in band for historic DII hoops run

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

It’s not unusual for university presidents to be super fans, sitting courtside and screaming from the swanky, pampered seats.

Ferris State’s president, Dr. David Eisler, takes his fandom a big step further — as a frequent member of the school’s pep band, even if he prefers the term “guest.”

Eisler plays clarinet with the band and is in Sioux Falls, S.D., this week whistling — err, playing — a happy tune as Ferris State is just one victory away from its first national championship, in any sport. Ferris State plays Northern State (S.D.) in the Division II men’s basketball championship game at 3 Saturday.

“This is my 15th year as president at Ferris, and I’ve been playing in the pep band ever since I joined the university,” he told The News over the phone Friday. “I play the football games, volleyball, I’ll play there, hockey, men’s and women’s basketball on a regular basis. If I’m in town, I’ll play.

“It’s a great way to be a part of the organization, get to know the students and to provide support for our athletic teams.”

No. 1 seed Ferris State (37-1), loaded with former Metro Detroit prep stars like Drew Cushingberry (Romeo) and Noah King (U-D Jesuit) among several others, is on some kind of roll, with 25 wins a row — including two this week in South Dakota. It’s led wire-to-wire in its Elite Eight and Final Four victories, even if both wins have been close in the end.

So the Bulldogs will be the favorite Saturday, but No. 3 Northern State (36-3) will be the favorite among the crowd. Its campus in Aberdeen is just 200 miles away.

Ferris State sent two full busloads of fans from its Big Rapids campus for Thursday’s 85-79 victory over West Texas A&M. The Bulldogs will be outnumbered in the stands, so the band just might have to play louder.

“You’ll definitely be able to hear us,” Eisler said with a laugh, noting the game will be televised nationally on CBS.

Eisler’s passion for music goes back almost as long as he does. He earned bachelor’s and doctoral degrees in clarinet performance from the University of Michigan, as well as a master’s from Yale. He’s in the University of Michigan School of Music Theatre and Dance Hall of Fame.

He also serves on the board of the Grand Rapids Symphony and is a past chair of UM’s School of Music, Theatre and Dance alumni board.

But the pep band, well, that’s a passion that ranks right up there for him — even if he acknowledges, he often hasn’t heard of some of the current music before he’s handed the music by the student conductors.

“The band plays a wide range of tunes,” said Eisler, 66, who never recommends his own tastes — the students pick everything, he gets his folder just like everyone else, and it’s game on. “I enjoy the opportunity to play with them. It’s great. It introduces me to some music I might not have known.

“I love to play the fight song. We have a great fight song written by a musician in Detroit. We love that. And I always love to play the ‘Final Countdown’ when it’s getting close to the end, the last minute.”

If he gets to play that Saturday, there’s a very good chance Ferris State will be cutting down the nets for the first time.

In the history of Ferris State athletics, the Bulldogs have had four national runner-up showings — 1989 wrestling (Division II), 2004 and 2006 women’s golf (Division II) and 2012 men’s hockey (Division I).

This is new territory for the basketball team, which had never before gotten past the Elite Eight.

And Eisler couldn’t be happier — for the student-athletes, his young and bushy-bearded coach Andy Bronkema, and the university as a whole.

“This is all historic,” he said. “It would really be a great ending to a fabulous year with a great group of student-athletes and an excellent coach.

“This is great recognition for our university. Tomorrow’s going is on CBS, and from the networks, they say upward of 2.5 million will be watching the game. To get this type of recognition for our basketball program — we’ve had this recognition before for ice hockey — but to get this type of national exposure to show people what a quality institution this is, is wonderful for our university faculty and staff.

“Today’s a great day to be a Bulldog.”


Ferris State vs. Northern State (S.D.)

Tip-off: 3 Saturday, Sanford Pentagon, Sioux Falls, S.D.


Records: No. 1 Ferris State 37-1; No. 3 Northern State 36-3

Outlook: Ferris State is trying for its first national championship in any sport. ... Northern State will have the crowd on its side, with its campus in Aberdeen located just 200 miles from Sioux Falls. ... Northern State has five players who average in double-figures in scoring, led by red-shirt senior guard DJ Pollard (13.2 ppg).