I wrote, not long ago, about returning to my hometown because the school district had just completed renovating the football stadium. Sheppard-Myers Field is a 'landmark' in the town and where there have been many football games and band competitions. While most schools have their field near, or next to, the high school, this is actually at the opposite end of town in a residential neighborhood. It isn't ideal, parking is difficult, but it's worked. They've taken a facility that was used for many years and upgraded it...without making it too extravagant. To say that, you have to understand - I'm not saying they "cut corners," or didn't provide an upscale facility. They did. The re-dedication took place this past Friday evening and, as is typical, I got there early. I happened to arrive at the stadium as the maintenance crew was leaving. Fortunately, one of said crew is a high-school classmate and someone I haven't seen in about a year. Though he wanted to get home, he took the time to give me the "five-cent tour." We saw the locker rooms, the rest rooms, the newer ticket booth, as well as the field house beyond the far end-zone that houses the maintenance equipment and a weight room for the players. The track has been resurfaced and there are now areas for handicapped patrons, too. All in all, they did a nice job and should be proud of the accomplishments.
For the dedication ceremony, they asked alumni to return to march in the parade and play the alma mater before the game. We'd leave one of the elementary schools, march about two miles to the stadium, then take the field as we'd done more than 30 years ago. Surprisingly (maybe not), we had almost 50 alumni show up to participate in the festivities. They represented classes from the 60's until present day, and they could still play - quite well, actually. For the parade, we were asked to join the current high school band. That's when, as a former member of a band that garnered quite a few honors, reality set in...along with the heartbreak. You see, when we were in school (hard to believe I am about to launch in to a "good old days" segment), we invested quite a bit into that band. We spent two weeks at the end of every summer at camp. Camp was held at the high school and we were there for at least eight hours a day. It was tedious but it was the investment of time that we knew would pay dividends. It did. As I mentioned previously, more than a few competitions were won, two state championships, and 2nd place in our division and 5th overall at the National Championships. We were very good...and took a great amount of pride in what we did. The sports teams were good, however the band gained most of the notoriety. Most of that had to do with the fact that, in a school with a total enrollment of less than 800 for grades 9-12, there were almost 150 of us involved in the marching band.
Back to the "heartbreak." When we lined up, I was looking for the current band. They were there, however the number, I am saddened to say, was incredibly low - less than 20 members, I believe. I was shocked. The picture at the left, you see, was taken in Whitewater, WI just after our preliminary competition. That's our group. Hard to look at it, even today, and not feel a certain amount of pride in what we'd accomplished. For the life of me, however, I could not understand why there were no marching band members in the current band. School enrollment in the district is down, certainly, and I understand it's a matter of sheer numbers. A bigger issue, it seems, is the fact that they just don't make the music program a priority. Let's be honest - it is a documented fact that children exposed to the arts do better academically. They are more well-rounded. Trust me, too - they learn more than just music. We were taught, in no small way, how to manage our peers, how to affect change, and how to grow as people. We were taught those "old school" values, too - take responsibility, work hard, treat each other the right way. I said before that it was due to our role models - the teachers and the parents. They were all involved and, even if they might have had something better to do, spent time with their kids. They gave us direction and taught us purpose. Mr Brodie, Mr Shreffler, the Parents Group - each and every one of them gave of themselves for us. It was a different time and, sadly, it shows in the current group. I've been told that the current director doesn't want to do marching band. Wait.....what now? Doesn't want to do it so there's no band? Several people asked, just Friday night, how they can become involved in helping resurrect the program. They prefaced it with, "I don't have kids in the program yet, but..." They, they people paying the taxes and the salaries, want the program. How does a teacher get to make the call of whether there will be a marching band or not? I'm....well, confused. Ironically, one of our former members from "back in the day," that is still involved with the competitive marching association has even volunteered to help get the program back to where it once was. He's been told, basically, "Thanks, but no thanks." If this is how our teachers view their positions in this day and age, I imagine my questions about education and it's downturn have been answered. Why are we just shuttling kids through school? It appears that, finally, the generation of entitlement and selfishness has reached a certain age...and they are now the adults charged with teaching our youth.
Until next time.............