Memes unite Marching Rangers

Traci Westcott/The Herald
Forest Park High School Marching Band Director Eric Obermeyer, center, keeps the beat as the band practices their footwork during band camp at the school on July 8. Obermeyer said he is impressed by the students dedication and forward progress. "Being here where everyone is awesome, and they know they are awesome, it's really fun," Obermeyer said. "They work hard, they play hard."


FERDINAND — The Forest Park Marching Rangers were authors of a championship story in 2018. Former band director Chad Gayso led the group to where every high school performer wants to be in early November: huddled around their peers in a cold downtown Indianapolis parking lot, crying tears of joy as they strung together stammer-filled sentences and squeezed into photos with their latest piece of postseason hardware.

They basked in the glory of yet another state title — Gayso’s sixth in 15 years at the Ferdinand school. But about four months later, the longtime leader announced he was leaving to fill the open director position at Jasper High School.

That was then. Now, with an immaculate 2019 season already under their belts, the Rangers are writing a new story. It’s called “Mr. O’s Big Book of Memes.”

The new director, Eric Obermeyer, is known for his corny jokes, big smile and love of laughter. When band camp rolled around and he spouted quips and one-liners at the kids to encourage their progress, they took note. And they began assembling a silly book that represents more than the funny words and pictures inside.

“I’m known for making terrible, terrible puns,” Obermeyer said. “And that kind of makes us grow together.”

Marlena Sloss/The Herald
Forest Park sophomore Emma Hall plays the mellophone during musical warmup at the ISSMA Marching Band Scholastic Prelims and Open Class Invitational Oct. 12 at Jerry Brewer Alumni Stadium in Jasper.

Obermeyer’s arrival, however, was no joke. Questions abounded when the reins of the perennially powerful program were given to the 25-year-old man, who had an impressive resumé but had never before directed a marching band.

But through a careful approach, a dedication to tradition and by making fun a priority, the band hasn’t missed a step under his command.

“They kind of thrive when expectations are set against them,” Obermeyer explained. “If you tell them they can’t do it, they’re gonna do it just to prove you wrong.”

Back to that crazy book. If you’re wondering, Merriam-Webster defines a meme as “an amusing or interesting item (such as a captioned picture or video) or genre of items that is spread widely online, especially through social media.”

The pages of Obermeyer’s offline meme book — which is actually housed in a ringed binder — were all created by students, and they all use either viral images or pictures of Obermeyer to tease at the little quirks and nuances within the band.

On one page, an angry dog mocks the face Obermeyer allegedly makes when he hears a wrong note. Another, starring a screaming Shrek, depicts how the director imitates the woodwind section at practices. Many show the fear that is felt when he instructs the Marching Rangers to put down their instruments, presumably before a stern talking to.

“I think teacher-student connections are important,” Obermeyer said, glancing at the book. “And I think as a young director, it’s really easy to relate to them.”

Marlena Sloss/The Herald
Forest Park senior Meghan Dale, left, senior Madison Tretter, and sophomore Ellie Hall take their place before performing during the ISSMA Marching Band Scholastic Prelims and Open Class Invitational Oct. 12 at Jerry Brewer Alumni Stadium in Jasper.

Still, a line is drawn. Obermeyer is their teacher, not a classmate, and this boundary is known and respected. He has a special bond with his students, though, as he sees them more than their other teachers and genuinely wants them to become the best they can be.

Though both Gayso and Obermeyer are passionate about their work and care deeply for their students, their teaching styles are undeniably different. Senior mellophone and violin player Josie Berg remembered Gayso as a quiet leader who tapped into his years of expertise when leading the Rangers. Obermeyer is more vocal, she said.

And while many connected to the program entered this season with a sense of apprehensiveness, the group’s “At the Fair”-themed show has consistently earned gold ratings and top placements at its competitions, quelling that tension.

“A lot of bands didn’t expect us to do very well this year,” Josie said. “Because usually, when you have a new director, it takes a couple years to get it going. But I think we’ve proved a lot about our work ethic and about just what we are as a band.”

Drum Major Elise Herndon remembered feeling scared before the band’s first practice in May. After Obermeyer assured the performers that the band’s traditions would be respected and its bar of excellence would be maintained, however, she knew he would be a great leader.

“I can, hopefully, see another state championship,” said Elise, who is a junior.

Making state is on Obermeyer’s mind, but he just wants to see the kids improve and feel like they leave it all on the field after every performance.

“My goal for the season was just for them to keep their identity,” he said. “And just make sure they still felt like they were a Marching Ranger. Just because there was a new director here didn’t mean they were any different. Really, I just wanted them to realize their self-value and their self-worth.”

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