County marching bands represent at state finalsNovember 11, 2019
By ALLEN LAMAN
INDIANAPOLIS — It’s all over.
After countless hours of practice in the blistering heat and freezing cold, after traveling across the state for competitions, and after forming friendships that they’ll remember for the rest of their lives, the 2019 high school marching band season came to a close on Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
There, Jasper, Southridge and Forest Park high schools competed in the 47th annual Indiana State School Music Association State Marching Band Finals. Jasper placed seventh of 10 bands competing in the Class B contest. In the Class D competition (a total of 10 bands), Forest Park placed second and Southridge placed ninth.
With the Northeast Dubois Marching Jeeps competing in the ISSMA Scholastic Finals in October, all four Dubois County bands performed in a state finals contest.
Florentine Wehner loves competition. At Wildcat football games this season, when the crowd quieted and no one could be bothered to cheer, there she was, rooting on her adopted home team.
Her actual home is on the other side of the globe. The junior JHS synthesizer player is a foreign exchange student from Germany.
Friends back there probably haven’t seen anything like marching band before. Florentine hadn’t seen it before she arrived in Jasper in the summer.
See more photos of Jasper at state
“At first, it was just so different,” admitted Florentine, whom everyone knows as Flo. “I’ve never seen something like that. I was like, ‘What’s going on? Why are people walking around like that?’ But it’s really fun. I really like it.”
She picked it up quickly. She made fast friends. And on Saturday, Flo experienced a new level of competition. Socially magnetic and bursting with energy, she played an integral role in leading the Marching Wildcats to their seventh-place finish in ISSMA Open Class B.
“We had a need for somebody who knew how to play piano,” recalled Chad Gayso, first-year director of the band. “It was perfect. She just stepped right in, and it’s cool because she knew how to play and didn’t really have to be taught. She’s been awesome, a great addition.”
Flo’s experience in the band is the same as that of many: Her favorite memories are off the field and with her friends. One of them is senior drum major Abby Fischer, who led her final performance on Saturday.
Band broke Abby out of her shell and introduced her to friends she would have never met otherwise. She took pride in shaping and molding the band’s routine into a state championship contender, and she was also proud of how far some of the once-inexperienced Marching Wildcats progressed as individual performers over the course of the season.
“It’s a proud moment for me, but it’s also kind of bittersweet knowing that it’s my last year and I used to be in that position,” she said a couple of hours before the band played Saturday. “I used to be that person that didn’t know what I was doing, and now I’m almost done.”
In a post-awards huddle in the Lucas Oil parking lot, Gayso praised band members. This year’s run marked the band’s 30th consecutive trip to the state finals contest.
“The idea was to get here and to have a great show today,” he told the crowd of parents and students. “And to do something and accomplish something that you were going to feel good about. And that always needs to be the goal — never a placing.”
He continued: “In that, I definitely want to congratulate you guys on a great season. Awesome performance today.”
Band saved Eric Obermeyer’s life.
Before being named the director of the Forest Park Marching Rangers in May, before joining the professional Drum Corps International group, and before falling in love with music, Obermeyer was bullied.
He has Tourette’s syndrome, a disorder that involves involuntary movements or unwanted sounds — called tics — that can’t be easily controlled. Obermeyer’s tics manifest as movements in his face that flare up when he is stressed.
See more photos of Forest Park at state
When he was in middle school, they were so severe that doctors thought he was having seizures. This led to classmate torment so harsh and pain so deep that the boy was home-schooled in eighth grade.
“Everybody kind of has those low moments in their life,” Obermeyer said on Saturday. “When people make you feel like nothing at times. It was then that I found music. It became my best friend. And it really, truly did save my life.”
At Lucas Oil Stadium, the Rangers listened to their leader — who now is a pillar of happiness and swagger — as he told his story to them for the first time.
They asked him a week before why band is important to him. He waited to answer until inside the bowels of Lucas Oil, when he huddled them close in a warmup room just moments before they’d pour themselves into a run of their routine that would ultimately net the band a runner-up award in Open Class D.
“I knew it would be a good moment, because they’d be at a more emotional level at that point,” Obermeyer said. “And we’d be able to kind of connect a little bit better on it.”
That moment was all-encompassing: In a season that could have been written off as a transition year, the Marching Rangers had maintained their identity as a championship-caliber band. They’d adjusted to a new, first-time marching band director. And after he’d pushed them and pushed them for months on end, Obermeyer finally shared the source of his passion.
At the beginning of the year, Obermeyer asked each member of the band to set a goal for themselves. Senior flute player Elizabeth Brown wanted to have as much fun as possible, even though her friends who graduated last year wouldn’t be back. Madison Tretter, a senior trumpet player, wanted to leave the field after every rehearsal or practice knowing she’d given the best performance she possibly could. Junior drum major Elise Herndon wanted to be better than she was last year.
All three agreed they had achieved their goals.
Together, the Marching Rangers also had a collective mission that became a “burn it down” mantra throughout the season. Short and sweet, the phrase was symbolic of the fire inside them, and the blaze they aimed to bring to every performance.
Before they marched out onto the field on Saturday, Obermeyer said “you can almost see flames in their eyes. They’re ready to smoke it down.”
While walking through a tunnel that would eventually lead the band back to the Southridge Marching Raider Band buses, Lannie Butler reflected on a long season. Moments before, the band learned it had placed ninth of 10 bands in the ISSMA Open Class D contest.
Parents and community members lined one side of the passage, erupting into a cheer as he guided the group forward. As the Raiders marched out of one season and into the future, their leader planned to remind them of a mindset that has and will continue to take them far.
See more photos of Southridge at state
“Be our best, that’s our motto,” Butler said. “That’s our philosophy. And if you do that, then everything else takes care of itself.”
He continued: “It’s a subjective activity. You get what you get. We’re happy with it, whatever the results are every week, as long as we feel like we did our best. And we did.”
It’s been apparent to Butler for quite some time now that this year’s Southridge Marching Raider Band isn’t a group that focuses on one person or even a group of performers within the outfit.
“They’re a group,” said Butler, who has directed the band for nearly three decades. “They’re an ensemble and they work together.”
Senior drum major Brianna Stasel stepped down from her podium for the final time on Saturday. When she looks back on her marching band days in the years to come, she will remember the people.
“Just seeing everybody just come together and work as one band, it’s really incredible to see,” she said.
Regardless of placement earned, qualifying for the state finals is an impressive feat. Southridge barely missed the contest in 2018, but made back-to-back appearances in 2016 and ‘17.
At 45 members, the Marching Raider Band is small but mighty. Butler said returning to the finals this year further solidifies the band’s foundation.
“We’ve got a good program,” he said. “And I think the kids know it. The community knows it. People expect it, but at the same time, you’ve got to do the work. And this group has done that.”
Butler said outperforming their most previous rehearsal is always a goal for the band, meaning they only ever aim to beat themselves. And on Saturday, they did just that.
“I think it means everything to them,” Butler said of the band’s return to the state finals. “Again, they’re about performing and being with their friends and just enjoying the togetherness of the activity. And when people get sad, it’s not because of this or that. It’s just because it’s over. And you can’t experience this again.”
He added: “It’s a cherished memory for them. So, it means a lot to them, the opportunity they had. They did their part and they got rewarded for their hard work.”
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