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Unforgettable journey: Pokeapella remembers their 2019 journey to New York

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Bond stronger than blood

COVID has not broken the brotherhood of this group as they move forward and grow. 

One email gave 12 college guys the opportunity of a lifetime. Pokeapella was going to New York. 

In the fall 2019 semester, Pokepella was requested to sing the national anthem in the Barclays Center for the Oklahoma State v.s. Syracuse basketball game.  All the guys knew this was a life-changing moment in their hands, but there was one problem: money. 

The trip did not cover any expenses and the group had to find ways to finance the trip. How they did so was through a concert, a GoFundMe page and a good community. 

Justin Hughs, the vice president of Pokeapella, said this was the group’s first-ever concert. He said that they had mainly performed for small events and other miscellaneous occasions, but this would be the first time the spotlight was only on them. They called it “A Journey Down the Strip.” 

All their efforts paid off. They were off to New York. 

Jack Moffatt was a freshman and new to the group when all this happened. He said it was almost by chance that he was able to join Pokeapella, and he must have been in the right place at the right time. 

Being new to the group and younger than all the guys was a challenge for Moffatt at first, he said. However, being stuck on a bus, shoulder to shoulder, for 20 hours tends to make friendships easier to create. 

“ It was kind of all a blur,” Moffatt said. “It was awesome. Just in the van, we were just singing songs and making jokes everywhere. I mean, it was awesome.” 

Moffatt said he initially picked the worst place to sit on the bus to give the more senior members a comfortable seat, but by the ride home they were all brothers and they could sit on each other’s laps if they wanted. 

Wesley Rice, another member of Pokeapella, and Hughes both said similar things about the ride up to Brooklyn and down to Stillwater: It was an unbelievable trip. However, the most surreal part was not the car ride and jokes but the performance itself. 

Moffatt described being escorted by an official-looking, intimidating man to where they would need to enter the court. He said they walked through a tunnel and onto the court. It was just Pokeapella and a stage. All eyes were on them. 

Moffatt said he could barely see the audience he was performing for. He could see faces of players, couches and fans here and there, but he couldn’t see much. The court felt like it could swallow him whole. Millions of emotions were swirling around inside of him, but the most prominent was disbelief. 

“Am I really out here doing this?” Moffat said. 

After they had sung, Pokeaplla moved to the stands to watch the rest of the game. Rice recalled the feeling that they didn’t belong. They were maybe the only OSU fans in the stands that night, and the 12 men in their bright orange uniforms stood out like sore thumbs. 

“Oklahoma is a long way away, so there is not a lot of OSU fans there,” Rice said. “And so, these 12 guys all in their polos, and we’re all bunched up together, surrounded by a hostile crowd. Because we’re standing up and we’re cheering on OSU when we’re surrounded by Syracuse fans. And so we’re sitting there and we’re wondering, ‘Ah, man, are we going to get jumped when we try to walk out of here?’”

For Hughes, Rice and Moffatt, this is an experience that they will never forget. However, it’s an experience that seems unreal nowadays due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Large sports crowds, travel and singing in groups have been some of many things that the pandemic has taken away from human life since March 2020. Nonetheless, these activities are seeing a return as vaccines roll out, and members of Pokeapella are ready for a sense of normalcy again. 

COVID took away their concerts and performances and their ability to be physically close, but it didn’t take away the spirit of the group. Life may have changed for a little while, but the music and friendship stayed the same. 

“I came in at this huge peak, luckily, then we had this huge slow down with the pandemic,” Moffatt said. “It’s still just as fun as it used to be, just in different ways. As long as you have everybody there, it doesn’t matter if you’re going to New York or not. It’s all about the guys and the friendships you make, really.” 

Rice said he is hopeful that Pokeapella will be back to some kind of normal in a year or two. And even though he will not be there to see it, he wishes the next generation of Pokeapella the best. 

“I want to see them do more than I got to do,” Rice said. “Like the opportunity to go to New York-- I don’t want that to be a once-only thing for Pokeapplla. I want opportunities like that to keep coming for them and for them to keep getting bigger.”