By Lindsey Ziliak
Tribune staff writer
The Western High School Marching Panthers were named the best of the nation’s small high school bands this weekend.
Western beat out 33 other schools from across the country Saturday during the Bands of America Grand National semifinals at Lucas Oil Stadium. It earned the title of class A national champion.
“It was a fantastic end to the season,” said Keith Whitford, assistant band director. “Because of its notoriety, [this competition] attracts the best bands in the country.”
The Marching Panthers competed against bands from places like Florida, Michigan, Oklahoma and Texas.
“These are some of the biggest and finest schools in the country,” Whitford said.
Western faced off with about 90 other bands in the preliminaries Thursday. Whitford said they had to wait until Friday night to find out they had qualified for the semifinals, though.
The awards ceremony ended late Friday, and the band had to turn around and perform at 8:15 the following morning.
Students loaded their instruments on buses Saturday and left for Indianapolis before 5 a.m.
“Everyone was kind of numb,” Whitford said. “They maybe had two hours of sleep.”
Their semifinals performance suffered a little bit because of it. It didn’t have the “punch and excitement” it normally had, the assistant band director said.
But students put a lot of work and a lot of heart into that show, Whitford said.
In the three days between the state finals and the national contest, students rehearsed at least 11 hours. Last Monday night, the band practiced in the Carmel High School stadium in the 32-degree weather, Whitford said.
“It was a lot of work this season,” he said.
The band didn’t make the overall finals, but it got the chance to perform a final time in the competition’s exhibition show.
Following their semifinals performance, Western band members filled an Indianapolis church to practice for the show and get some sleep.
Students crawled into sleeping bags for an hour of rest. Then they gathered in the church sanctuary to perform a warm-up hymn and rehearse the show one last time.
“I looked over at some of the parents, and there were tears streaming down,” Whitford said. “It was emotional. It was the last time we’d perform the show.”
The Marching Panthers played Saturday night to a cheering crowd that offered them a standing ovation.
Even though students weren’t being evaluated during that performance, it was their best show of the season, Whitford said.
That performance was all about celebrating. And they had a lot to celebrate, especially when they found out they were the winners in their class.
That was the icing on the cake, Whitford said. But it still wasn’t the most important thing.
“Our goal is never to win championships,” Whitford said. “Going after a trophy is a shallow goal. Our goal is to give the kids a good experience. Their goal is to outdo what they did previously.”