Since 1987, several student organizations have taken center stage inside John R. Emens College-Community Auditorium, dancing the night away and lip syncing in front of an audience of Ball State students.
Air Jam — held Oct. 20 at 7:30 p.m. — is one of many events during Ball State’s Homecoming week. It is packed with brightly-colored lights, glamorous outfits and uproars of cheers from congested rows of an energetic audience.
Besides providing leisure, this Homecoming week tradition allows Greek Life organizations, performing arts teams, residence halls and many other campus groups to compete against each other in an all-out dance and lip sync royale.
Tony Sandleben, Ball State 2018 graduate, was involved in Air Jam through his fraternity, Alpha Tau Omega (ATO).
“We were paired with Kappa Delta, and at the time, we didn’t have an actual fraternity house,” Sandleben said. “So, we had to get creative on where we could practice, and it just made it much more fun.”
Sandleben’s team practiced in many different locations, from the College of Architecture and Planning building to the roof of the Village Promenade Apartments.
At the end of each practice, the grueling hours of dance routines left Sandleben with exhausted enjoyment. Thankfully for the ATO member, his theater background was of service.
“It's all about muscle memory and whatnot,” Sandleben said. “So I ended up picking up on it relatively decently, it’s just my endurance was terrible. So by the end of each rehearsal, I’m gasping for air.”
Even though Sandleben only performed in Air Jam during his fourth year in 2017, it only took one show in Emens bringing the whole crowd to life to give Sandleben a taste of Air Jam spirit.
“Air Jam is packed,” Sandleben said. “You had people going absolutely crazy, because people knew people from other Greek organizations, knew my fraternity brothers, knew me, knew the Kappa Delta sorority members, and so people were going crazy, cheering for us.”
The night of Air Jam occurs only once per school year, but the Homecoming Steering Committee is always excited for it, committee advisor Michelle Johnson and Air Jam chair Izzie Horn said.
Both help invent unique themes for each Homecoming week, which remains a part of each event. For the 2022-23 academic year, the theme “Chirp! Chirp! Fever” was chosen to showcase appreciation for student classes throughout the 1970s who plan to return for Homecoming week.
“We’re trying to incorporate the 1970s back into it and really welcome those alumni that were part of that decade to really feel seen and welcome,” Horn said.
Throughout Johnson’s 17-year span as an advisor, she’s seen tough competitors throughout Air Jam’s history, including various Greek Life organizations, University Singers and Outlet. However, while the Homecoming Steering Committee enjoys the presence of veteran contestants, diversifying the range of campus groups competing in the event is always a significant priority.
“We have some new independent organizations that are participating this year, which we really love to see, like ROTC [Reserve Officers’ Training Corps] and Cru,” Johnson said. “So we’re excited that some new organizations are getting involved.”
According to Johnson, as long as a student gets “involved with a student organization,” the doors to entering Air Jam are wide open. Furthermore, Air Jam is also a profit system for Ball State Homecoming, serving as a budgeting tool for future Homecoming weeks.
“Air Jam is what helps us create income for the following Homecoming,” Johnson said. “So we charge $15 a ticket for anyone to come watch, and that’s how we get our income for next year’s expenses for Homecoming.”
Without the admission prices for Air Jam, future Air Jams aren’t possible. The event is not only popular in the Ball State community, but it is also an event Horn believes heavily incorporates student involvement.
“I think since Air Jam is one of the biggest events that organizations can pair with, I feel like the students would feel kind of isolated because they wouldn’t have as big of a part in Homecoming activities,” Horn said.
Air Jam and Homecoming week in general provides the Homecoming Steering Committee bonding time, Johnson said is enjoyable because the relationships built “last long into their alumni lives.”
Even more so, the booming energy delivered from Air Jam is always something Johnson looks forward to every Homecoming week.
“What is most memorable for me is my ears continuing to ring the next day after the show each year,” Johnson said. “The audience gets so excited and into Air Jam that the noise level is at an all-time high.”