For the first time in its history, the women’s basketball team made an appearance in an NCAA Division I tournament game on national television and while the women didn’t beat top-seeded North Carolina, they played well.

But there was another Cinderella story at the game that day – the performance by the UCR Pipe Band.

Called to serve at the last minute because the school doesn’t have an NCAA-approved pep band, the bagpipe band won the hearts of ESPN commentators and fans as a unique and welcome addition to college basketball.

“I have never been so proud,” said the band’s leader, Pipe Major Mike Terry.

According to NCAA rules, each team in the tournament is supposed to bring a pep band but rules specify the band cannot use instruments with amplification. UCR’s regular pep band uses an electric guitar and electric base.

For some games, the athletic department hires a traditional pep band from a local high school or college but when the women’s basketball team won the Big West title, Mark Dodson, the sports department’s media relations assistant said, “Why don’t we take the bagpipe band?”

“We looked at each other and said, ‘That’s either going to be the best idea ever, or the worst,’ said Ross French, the university’s sports information director.

They decided to go for it.

Although, he couldn’t go himself, Terry got 22 members of the band to drop everything to make the trip. “We practiced 30-second and 60-second snippets of tunes so we would be prepared to play for short television appearances, but you can only prepare so much.”

After a rush plane trip to Nashville, band members hurried to their hotel, changed clothes, practiced and got to the stadium, in time to make a grand entrance. The North Carolina pep band was warming up and had just finished a song when the pipe players began playing “Scotland the Brave” as they marched to their seats.

“The place just stopped cold,” said French, still excited about UCR’s tournament appearance. “There was no question they were paying attention to our band. People were taking photos and when they finished, the place broke into spontaneous applause.

“People wanted to know if they played at every game, or if we rented them. The ESPN commentators do hundreds of games a year and this was something totally different for them.”

The band even got to play during halftime.

“They took center stage right in the center in a horseshoe formation,” Terry said proudly. “ESPN commentators kept raving about the band and how different it was, in addition to raving about the team.”

The appearance was a triumph for band members.

“They still can’t believe they did this,” Terry said. “It’s a credit to how hard they have been working. The preparation, the instruction week after week, all year, this kind of effort and dedication is rare.”

Terry hopes performances like this one will help his band flourish.

But even if they don’t, they will have a place at any and all future NCAA basketball appearances.

“I am quite sure if we go back you will see the pipe band with us in some capacity,” French said.

A Highland Bagpipe class will begin in the fall. Classes will be held 5:30-6:30 p.m., Wednesday in the SRC conference room. Cost is $20 for students, $30 for non-students. Private lessons are also available. Information: Mike Terry, (951) 827-4590.