How Osmo’s director of engineering had a front-row seat to March Madness history
Long before he was the Director of Engineering at Osmo, Mike Lee was watching history as 16-seed Harvard stunned his top-seeded Stanford team in the first round of the women’s NCAA basketball tournament as a trombone player in the university’s band.
The band seats, of course, were some of the best seats for the game. And Lee was thrilled to get the assignment.
Like many of his bandmates, had joined the band as a “walk-on”. He learned to play trombone on the job and then throughout the year the band was divided among the multiple events in the sports calendar or anywhere else where it was needed.
“There basically would be the people who could really play well and they would be on the travel band. And then there was the local band and they would just ask who could be around to play for the volleyball team – or there’s a lot of basketball games,” he said.
Because the men’s basketball team was also in the NCAA tournament, the local band was tasked with cheering on the Cardinal in the women’s tournament, which in women’s hoops is played at the home team’s arena.
It was 1998, decades before the 16-seed UMBC Retrievers would make history with the same accomplishment of upsetting a one-seed in the men’s NCAA tournament with a stunning win over Virginia in the first round. But shortly into the game, Lee began to feel like something was wrong. Stanford got a slow start and went into halftime down.
Stanford was playing without its two stars, Vanessa Nygaard and Kristin Folkl who were lost to injury in the days leading up to the game and the Cardinal defense was unable to stop Harvard’s Allison Feaster, who finished the game with 35 points and 13 rebounds.
“I still thought we were going to win and until that point a 16 had never beaten a one seed since the tournament went to the field of 64,” he said.
The band, he said, plays the same songs regardless of how the game is going. So going into the timeouts, halftime and coming out of the break, nothing changed with his job.
But despite gaining the lead a few times in the second half, couldn’t pull out the win and made a historic early exit.
Despite the injuries, it was stunning. “I’ve never watched the tape,” legendary coach Tara VanDerveer told ESPN in 2015.
Lee said at the time it was pretty depressing. And even today, it’s the only NCAA tournament game he’s been to.
Luckily for the Stanford women, it’s far from the only time they’ve made it to the tournament’s first round. On Friday night, they’ll be playing in their 14th Final Four, taking on UConn.
And while Lee won’t have the seats being in the band provides, he’ll still be rooting them on.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “Crossing fingers that Stanford can go back to back with another title.”
Though Lee doesn’t play the trombone for us at Osmo, he does think there’s one thing that carried over from his experience there: Teamwork.
“If you’re in band, you figure out your teams, there’s different sections, each with a leader, and everyone has a role to play,” he said. “The same with a basketball team. And every year there are changes, and the organization learns to deal with change and adapt.”