OK, the lazy days of summer are gone, and school is back in session. Even before classes began, many of our high school kids were already busy practicing in the searing Georgia sun getting themselves in shape, working on their moves, practicing their formations, getting their uniforms issued and ready for Friday Night Lights across the state. Football? Nope. Marching bands.
Some will take issue with this, but I generally know what I am talking about when I opine on any and all subjects. Not marching bands. I can’t play a musical instrument (unless you count the ukulele, on which I do a mean rendition of “Sweet Betsy from Pike.”) Add walking five steps forward, two steps sideways and three steps back while playing the theme from “Star Wars” on a trombone and I could wreak havoc worse than a hard-charging linebacker.
My admiration for bands, for those who play in them, lead them and the parents that support them is deeprooted. It all goes back a number of years ago when I met the grandson of a good friend at church. He was in his high school marching band and headed to the University of Georgia.
When I asked him his plans while there, he said he was hoping to become a part of UGA’s Redcoat Band. I will admit to a bit of bias, but the Redcoat Band is one of the best in the nation. What a great experience for him to be able to perform to with 400 other band members before 90,000-plus fans at Sanford Stadium. He dropped his head and said, “I wish you would tell our football team that. They think we are a bunch of nerds.” Really?
I went home and checked on the record of his school’s football team. They were 0-4 at the time. I wrote a column and suggested the football team might want to spend more time learning how to block and tackle and less time casting aspersions on their band. It was obvious that the band was a lot better than the football team.
It seems I had touched a nerve. The column went viral. I heard from band directors, band parents and band members from across the country. A few years later, I was making a speech at a high school in Georgia and found the column framed and hanging in the band room.
I also heard from a lot of prominent people around the state who had played in their high school bands and treasured every minute of it.
The column got me a number of invitations to watch bands practice and this only increased my appreciation of the difficulty and complexity that go into marching band routines and the long hours they put in.
My grandson ran cross-country in high school. He said he and the other runners would take off on a long training run as the football team and the band were beginning practice. They would return as the football team was winding up and heading for the showers. The band would still be practicing. The players and runners would shower, gather their belongings and head for home. The band? Still practicing.
Happily, I heard from a number of football coaches who expressed gratitude for the role their high school band plays in bringing excitement and enthusiasm to the games on Friday nights. One coach told of a mix-up that had prevented the school band from performing at halftime. After the game, he had his players stay and watch as the band went through their routine. A classy thing to do.
Back to the young man who was headed to the University of Georgia with the intention of being a part of the Redcoat Band. He did just that and the next time I saw him, I hardly recognized the shy youngster I had met that day at church. The change in him was striking. Brimming with confidence, he credited his experiences in the band with helping him grow and develop as a person. He is now an attorney in the Atlanta area.
High school football rightfully gets a lot of attention on these pages and it should. Playing football takes a lot of hard work and dedication and is a great way to bring the community together. But let’s not forget the kids in the marching band. They work hard, too, and often times don’t get the credit they deserve. May they continue to make beautiful music, now and forevermore.