EVANSVILLE, Ind. — For the first time in history, three Evansville Vanderburgh School Corp. schools made their way to the top, earning a spot in the marching band state finals.
They were joined by several other area bands including Castle’s Marching Knights (placing fourth in the division) and Mater Dei Marching Wildcats (placing 10th in their division.) Other schools from the region winning a spot at state included: Mount Vernon Marching Wildcats, Jasper Marching Wildcats, Princeton Marching Tigers, Vincennes Lincoln Pride of the Green, Pride of Paoli, Tell City Marching Marksmen, Forest Park Marching Rangers, Springs Valley Blackhawk Brigade and Southridge Marching Raider Band.
The Harrison High School Warrior Command secured a top 10 spot in the Indiana State School Music Association’s state finals. They ended up placing ninth in their class but felt like winners by earning a spot at state.
Harrison Band Director Robert Cason said his students’ historic achievement is one they have steadily inched toward for years, as he’s seen the program’s growth since arriving seven years ago
“When I got here, the band was smaller, about half the size it is now,” Cason said. “It never achieved the level of success it was capable of, so we’ve really been building that up, getting more kids and building up their skill set. It’s been a long time coming.”
In last year’s semi-state competition, Harrison was just .4 points away from qualifying for state finals. Cason said the band narrowly missing last year’s competition further inspired them to fight for a qualifying spot for Saturday’s state finals.
“It’s quite an honor,” Harrison band student Chris Graninger said. “It feels amazing that we were able to make it to state… I think it also shows how strongly the previous classes before us shaped us up to be the people we are today.”
The North Green Brigade and Reitz Mighty Marching Panthers also made it to state. The bands performed at the Lucas Oil Stadium against seven other schools in their competition class. Reitz placed fifth in the class and North sixth.
Graninger said having three schools representing Evansville speaks to the increased importance of local band programs in the community.
“I think it shows the Evansville community that there is a strong music presence here,” Graninger said. “I love sports and other activities, but I think the publicity of the bands’ success can show the community that they have another activity to root for.”
EVSC spokesman Jason Woebkenberg attributes the success of the marching bands to the tireless hard work of their student-musicians.
“I think what impresses me is the long term commitment of these students… You really see some incredible talent, and it’s really impressive to see our schools performing at a high level against real quality competition from around the state,” Woebkenberg said.
EVSC Fine Arts Director Dwight Emmert said students begin preparing for the ISSMA competition weeks after the previous season ends.
For this season, Emmert said students began practicing in November 2018, perfecting their performances while playing at smaller events on the weekends. And over the summer, students went through a series of mini-camps to continue sharpening their skills ahead of the statewide competition.
The success of these EVSC band programs, Emmert said, comes after a near decade-long effort to revive the district’s instrumental programs.
The district had half of the current number of band students nine years ago, Emmert said. And the level of achievement they’ve reached, he said, is a result of the school corporation’s efforts.
“We had about 10-15 years of having nothing really going on, so (EVSC) had to rebuild that from scratch,” he said. “We’ve been knocking down the door to have this moment for a while now. It’s a commitment that’s been made over many years, this doesn’t start in one. There’s a real foundation for the kids. These programs aren’t going anywhere.”
Woebkenberg said the district’s commitment is something you don’t see across the nation. He pointed to other school corporations cutting funding and staff for their music programs.
“As a district, we really became focused and intentional in ensuring our students have quality access to fine arts programs so we didn’t just have one band that was successful,” he said. “We want to give every student an opportunity for success regardless of where they are in the EVSC.”
Emmert said the hard work of the participating student-musicians, paired with the district’s efforts to build up its music programs, has established future achievement for other marching bands in the school corporation.
“For many of these students, they have really benefited from the strength of the program starting all the way back in fifth grade,” he said. “So these current high school students have been a part of the commitment. They’ve been working on their talents since they were in elementary school.”
Trey Schellenberg, a senior Reitz band student, said having one of the three bands win the statewide competition would further highlight their talents on a community-level. In turn, helping them, as well as other bands in the district, gain more support from Evansville residents in the future.
“If one of our schools were to win at state, I know that our entire community would be extremely proud and even more supportive of us in the future,” he said. “It makes me proud to see our community come together like a family when one or (more) of us achieves something so great.”
Cason said he expected the bands to embrace the historic moment at Lucas and soak it all in. And while all of them were hoping to take home the top honor, in many ways, they’ve already won.