It’s Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013, and Jake Banks is home for the first time since arriving at Ursinus three weeks prior.
He sits at the dinner table with his family, scarfing down his mother’s homemade grilled chicken, mashed potatoes, and roasted vegetables—paying no attention to the time. A sudden realization hits. In just a short amount of time, he will be auditioning for one of the most prestigious and exclusive clubs Ursinus has to offer: The Bearitones, Ursinus’s all-male identifying a cappella group.
“I completely missed the group warm-up because I showed up late,” said Banks. “I thought, ‘I’m a freshman, I don’t know how this works, they’re probably not going to let me in now.’”
Banks stood at the end of a line that ran about 40 people deep waiting for his shot to impress the selection committee, hoping to secure one of the four available spots that the other singers were also auditioning for.
“I got in there and saw the panel, which is also scary because you just have a bunch of people looking at you like, ‘Let’s hear you sing!’” said Banks.
With little practice and no warm-up at all, Banks stepped into the audition room and masterfully belted out Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine,” and the rest is history.
Not only did Banks secure his spot in the Bearitones; he found out a week later at the first practice that the Bearitones would be singing Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” in that year’s concert. Banks would sing the solo.
Banks is now a senior and the vice president of Bearitones. Ironically, singing initially wasn’t a love of his.
“I went to an all-boys school for elementary school, and in fourth grade you were required to do either hand bells, or join the boys’ choir,” said Banks. “I was basically forced into singing, and I didn’t like it at first; I actually hated it. I even tried to flub singing in order to play the hand bells.”
Banks continued to sing in the boys’ choir and opted not to play the hand bells like most of his friends were doing. He had one gift that they didn’t: a great voice.
By the time Banks got to high school, his love for singing and music grew into something that he wanted to make part of his everyday life.
“Once you got to ninth grade, you were required one art class and my schedule automatically fed me right into choir,” explained Banks. “My music teacher was a really cool guy and we had a great relationship. He’s the one that convinced me to audition for the acappella group at [Chestnut Hill Academy].”
Much like the Ursinus Bearitones, Chestnut Hill Academy also has a very exclusive acapella group with a rich tradition dating back to when the school first opened its doors in 1861. At the suggestion of his teacher, Banks auditioned for “The Hilltones” acapella group. Just like with his Bearitones audition, he impressed the panel and was inducted into the organization.
Although Banks is a very talented singer, that one hobby doesn’t define him. He is also a senior captain on the baseball team, a position that seemed so improbable three years ago that not even he could have predicted it.
“I saw Coach Exeter my junior year at Penn—this is when he was still the coach of Swarthmore—and he seemed like a nice guy, so I thought I’d reach out to him in the future,” said Banks. “After Coach [Exeter] came here, I took a look at Ursinus, applied, got in, and emailed [Exeter], and told him I’d love to play for the Bears if possible.”
Coach Exeter didn’t guarantee him a spot on the team, but allowed Banks to try out for the team as a walk-on second baseman and outfielder. That fall, Banks joined the rest of the team and walk-on hopefuls during fall ball, the month long “try out” where players can showcase their talents.
“Coach pulls me into the office in the fall and says, ‘I appreciate your hard work, but I don’t see you traveling with this team, I don’t see you playing at all with this team, and I think it will take a herculean effort for you to make this team,’” said Banks.
Banks, standing 5’10” and weighing just 140, had the odds stacked against him. Most kids would have heard that and thrown in the towel, but he wasn’t about to give up on one of his greatest passions.
“I was pretty upset, but then I worked my [butt] off in the winter, came back in the spring, and middle of the season [Exeter] came up to me one practice and said, ‘You’re traveling with the team for a game against Lebanon Valley. Congratulations,” recalls Banks. “That’s when I knew I made the team, but every year he says nothing is guaranteed and just keep working your [butt] off, and that’s what I’ve been trying to do ever since that call up to Lebanon Valley.”
Three years later, the one-time scrawny walk-on second baseman is now a captain and senior leader on a Bears team which is poised to make the postseason for the first time in the Exeter era.
Banks doesn’t plan on leaving his two life passions anytime soon. He plans on getting into the music industry, hoping to one day open up his own record label. As for the immediate future, he is trying to pursue his masters in music business. Baseball is also part of the plan.
“I don’t want to have an ordinary job. I don’t want to have the 9-5 sitting in a cubicle. I want to go out, I want to travel, I want to see some things, shake some hands, meet people,” explains Banks. “That’s the kind of job I want.”
After Banks makes his living in the music industry, he’d like to revert back to his first love, baseball.
“After I retire, I’d like to move to a baseball complex that I built, and just be the old man who cuts the grass and soaks up in the sun in my final days. That would be the life,” said Banks.
As of right now, baseball is still on his mind. Banks and Bears will be competing against Johns Hopkins on Thomas Field for senior day on Saturday, April 22 at 12:30 p.m.