Earning their highest-ever finish and placement at Grand Nationals, the O’Fallon Township High School Marching Panthers returned from the weekend competition to hundreds of residents and community members lining the streets leading to the OTHS Smiley campus Sunday.
“There were so many people waiting for us with cheering and signs — even the mayor (Herb Roach) was there waiting to welcome the students home. It meant the world to these kids to have so many supporting them on that level. There just aren’t words to describe,” said Melissa Gustafson-Hinds, OTHS band director.
With 220 strong, the Marching Panthers competed against 37 other national bands, placing 14th in the semi-finals for the Bands of America Grand National Championship in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana, Nov. 8-11.
Gustafson-Hinds said the competition is really challenging.
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“They are doing things with their skills and performance style that no one else in the country has done before. It’s recognized as the highest advanced placement at these types of competitions, in terms of the competitive nature,” she said.
Two days of preliminary competition, pushed OTHS into semi-finals after earning a score of 86.425 placing them 21 out of 100 bands from 23 states.
“(They) finished with a score of 89.05! That’s only two places and 0.75 of a point from making finals. It was also their highest-ever finish and placement,” said Sarah Garner, an OTHS Panther Band Booster. “The band is awesome. They worked really hard. Their level of dedication and commitment really surpassed what I’ve experienced with students before.”
There are core body movements in marching band, Gustafson-Hinds said, that’s we don’t march any sets.
“It’s all dance and choreography synchronizing with the band’s music. We take it to the extreme more so than others performing,” Gustafson-Hinds said.
And, that’s what sets OTHS apart from other groups, she said.
“The senior level and leadership team that we had was really extraordinary, and they were top role models for other students. We were a team the entire time,” Gustafson-Hinds said.
Community, school and parental support are what makes success stories like these possible, according to Gustafson-Hinds.
“We wouldn’t have been able to get this far and keep going so strong if it wasn’t for all the support we’ve gotten from everyone from the Panther Band Boosters, the parents, the school and the community,” she said.
And it’s all aspects — funding, chaperones, praise and encouragement, Gustafson-Hinds said.
“These kids deserve it, and it’s so great to see that they are so many cheering these students on in some many different ways — there’s literally such a force behind them,” she said.
Also at the competition, OTHS Marching Panther Claire Wilcox was named the Music For All 2017 recipient of the Yamaha Corporation of America $1,000 scholarship, which was awarded over the weekend in between performances.
“We applied for it, but you have to be a pretty stellar person to be chosen,” Gustafson-Hinds said.
To learn more about the band, visit OTHS Panther Bands on Facebook.