Long before Shaka Smart brought Havoc to Richmond, there was a theatrical band director and a high energy pep band making their mark on VCU basketball. There is nothing subtle about the Peppas or their style. While other pep bands wear collared shirts and khakis, these guys wear baseball style jerseys, tacky Christmas gear, or spandex body suits from head to toe. The other guys play muted standards and this pep band has arrangements of current pop tunes and a DJ to add some spice.
You can attribute these differences to one very enthusiastic director, Ryan Kopacsi, who started leading the Peppas in 1998. We aren’t sure whether it was starting at such a young age (he was 19 when he began directing), staying so close to the college experience, or a combination of the two that has allowed Kopacsi to keep the band performing at the frenzied level that has garnered national attention for both the Peppas and VCU. While he can be slightly polarizing, with advocates of a more refined, family friendly atmosphere taking one side and those who don’t mind the theatrics on the other, Ryan has created a very recognizable brand for this college pep band.
The Peppas had close to 2300 twitter followers (@VCUAthleticBand) and over 3200 Facebook fans (VCU PEP BAND) as of August 23, 2014. They’ve got their own fan following and quite a few YouTube videos courtesy of both VCU fans and attendees from neutral courts. Their appearances at the Today Show and cover of Miley Cyrus’s “Wrecking Ball” are among the most viewed. During college basketball season #Havoc is not the only trending #VCU hashtag as #ThePeppaEffect also garners a good deal of attention.
So what exactly creates “The Peppa Effect”? If you haven’t seen them in action, this pep band is truly a performance group. Not only do they have an extensive repertoire, but they bust out some impressive moves while playing. Not content to stand idly by when they can’t play, they serve as an extension of the cheer squad, leading chants and keeping the crowd on their feet. Kopacsi is fond of theatrical moments and known for tearing off a dress shirt to reveal his signature Superman t-shirt, dancing while conducting, and the occasional tossing of a ball boy into the air while he’s out running around during half time.
During their inaugural season in the A-10 VCU made it to the Men’s Basketball Conference Tournament in Brooklyn, NY. Kopacsi and the Peppas unapologetically stole the national spotlight, on March 15th, when they rode around NYC in a double decker bus wrapped with an image of an airborne Briante Weber, “Havoc Lives Here”, and VCU Twitter hashtags. They proceeded to crash the live taping of the Today Show in Rockefeller Plaza announcing their arrival via Twitter. Pure guerilla tactics but it was a brilliant PR move for the Peppas and created extra buzz for VCU.
Antics in 2013-2014 that garnered attention included an accelerated shot clock countdown used to try and trick the opposing team to shoot early and an arrangement of Miley Cyrus’s hit “Wrecking Ball” that went viral. A space kitty banner from Miley’s video was used as a distraction during George Mason’s free throw attempts as the band chanted “meow”. Kopacsi also executed a special guest performance by a Miley look a-like for the highly anticipated re-match against the St. Louis Billikens. As the exclamation point on the season they made their second annual appearance on the Havoc bus visiting the Today Show, and getting some love on air from the hosts, during the A-10 Tournament in Brooklyn, NY.
With the incoming top 100 recruits in 2014 and commitments from more in 2015 the excitement around VCU basketball is growing, which probably has Ryan fired up to keep the bar for the Peppas held high. It’s hard to maintain the title “America’s coolest pep band” but if anyone can do it, it’s the VCU Peppas. Remember “You don’t wanna go to war with the Rams” or their pep band.