Marching Jeeps shine at rainy finals contest

Photos by Kaiti Sullivan/The Herald
Northeast Dubois High School senior drum major Ayane Mundy, left, sophomore Jade Mundy, freshman Sabrina Dunning and freshman Clayton Stemle watch bands perform before their turn to compete in Saturday's ISSMA Marching Band Scholastic Class state finals at Lawrence Central High School in Indianapolis.


INDIANAPOLIS — David Fox received the email mid-trip, as the Northeast Dubois Marching Jeeps weaved their way through cell-signal dead zones between their rural Indiana home and the state capital on Saturday morning.

A million things had already buzzed through the band director’s head during what could have been a rebuilding year for Dubois County’s smallest high school band. The biggest question: Could the Jeeps still be championship contenders after losing so many veteran leaders?

Fox wasn’t worried about that when the band’s caravan slogged through a steady rain en route to suburban Indianapolis. For months, the kids had refined their routine and proved they were as talented as ever by earning a slot in their class’ finals contest.

Then, he opened the email.

Unlike their previous three, consecutive trips to the statewide competition, the Jeeps wouldn’t be performing outside at Lawrence Central High School. The remnants of Tropical Storm Olga that were pushing north had sparked an impromptu change in plans.

Northeast Dubois eighth-grader Daphne Lindenschmidt, left, seventh-grader Leah Klawitter, eighth-grader Dyson Nichols and sophomore Braden Schroeder fist bump before performing in Saturday's ISSMA Marching Band Scholastic Class state finals at Lawrence Central High School in Indianapolis.

Instead, all the finalists would compete inside the school’s gymnasium — a wildly different stage than a football field.

But like they have so many times before, the Jeeps made it work. And even though they didn’t leave with a top-five placement in Scholastic Class B, they were proud to have continued the school’s recent tradition of musical excellence.

“They can play,” Fox said following the band’s performance. “They’re a good sounding band. They’re good musicians. Put them in a gym, and they just play so well together that it just amplifies them so naturally. They just sound so good.”

Playing indoors meant the Jeeps had to abandon the props and tarp that were integral to their roadway-themed show. They also cut out their intricate marching patterns and instead performed mostly in place — with the exception of slight movements from the band and color guard.

Still, they were ready for the change. Fox had prepared the group for the possibility of an indoor performance at practice in the days leading up to the finals, and he spoke highly of the fluidity the members showed on the most important day of their season.

“They’re way more flexible than what we give them credit for,” Fox said before they played. “I think us adults are way more scared of change, and kids are like, ‘Eh, OK, whatever. No big deal.’”

Northeast Dubois freshman Clayton Stemle performs with the color guard during Saturday's ISSMA Marching Band Scholastic Class state finals at Lawrence Central High School in Indianapolis. Clayton is one of three color guard members that perform with the band.

In at least one way, he felt the venue change actually benefited the group. It placed them closer to the event judges and made their sound — which can be washed away in a big stadium like Lawrence Central’s — bounce off walls and sound bigger than ever before.

Drum Major Ayane Mundy, who is one of only a few seniors in the band, released long-held tears of joy following the award ceremony. (Only the top five placements are announced to the public, and Northeast Dubois’ name was not called).

“She was just talking about how proud she is of everyone,” said Nikita Fischer, a fellow senior who is a member of the color guard. “We have a very young band this year, and they all came in not knowing too much. Honestly, all the seniors are so proud of everyone in this band.”

They bonded all year through the little things. During band camp, marchers dressed up in goofy outfits and decorated a pole and flag that they call a “spirit stick” with Spongebob memes.

When they arrived back in Dubois on Saturday, they hoped to run a “Fox trot” around their home gym for their director — a loving callback to an unorthodox punishment he used to implement when the band would mess up at practice.

The fabric of the Jeeps is as tight as ever. And while they funneled out of Indianapolis on a cold and crummy day, the feeling seemed to be the same.

Their future remains bright.

“I think you guys did a great job of handling a crazy scenario today,” Fox told them before the award ceremony. “Some great playing. You guys sound so good. And just remember how the year started, and how overwhelmed we felt with the music and routine.”

Two months ago, he wasn’t sure how the season would shape out. Saturday, it all came together.

“You guys sounded fantastic out there,” Fox concluded. “I’m really proud of you guys.”

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