While UCLA marching band members played a flag football game with their counterparts at USC over the weekend, someone broke into their equipment truck and stole more than $30,000 in instruments, officials said.
Authorities said they do not know if the theft was an act of school rivalry, but they have some leads. They found most of the equipment on the patio of an apartment complex near USC.
Regardless of who did it, Jennifer Judkins, assistant director of bands at UCLA, viewed the missing drums, trombones and saxophones as something more serious than collegiate mischief.
"What we see it as is grand theft," she said.
The UCLA marching band is scrambling to prepare for this weekend's game with about $5,000 in equipment still missing. Four snare drums, six band uniforms and several trombones remain unaccounted for. "We're going to have a very difficult time replacing them between now and Saturday," said UCLA band director Gordon Henderson.
Every year, the bands duke it out with the pigskin a week before the real Bruin-Trojan football game. Because this year's big match will be at the Rose Bowl, UCLA's home field, the bands' mini-showdown was held on USC turf, at Cromwell Field on campus.
About 7 p.m. on Sunday, the band teams kicked the game off while other members played their instruments on the side. But some of the equipment remained in the truck on McClintock Street.
During the game, someone used a piece of concrete to smash the lock and took instruments, officials said. At least 15 trombones, three or four saxophones and half a dozen drums were stolen.
About 8:15 p.m., a UCLA parent was walking to the restroom when she saw young people wearing USC sweatshirts milling around the truck holding instrument cases stamped with UCLA stickers, Henderson said.
The parent didn't think much of it and went back to the game.
The USC Department of Public Safety is investigating the incident in conjunction with the LAPD's Southwest Division. No suspects have been identified.
Henderson said he heard from detectives that the instruments were housed overnight at a fraternity house at USC. But Deputy Chief Tom Hehir would not confirm that information.
Suspects could face felony charges of grand theft and burglary from a motor vehicle, Hehir said.
The UCLA band has experienced thefts before, Judkins said. Several years ago, a tenor saxophone was stolen from Pauley Pavilion after a UCLA-USC basketball game, she said.
"But we've never had anything of this magnitude," she said.