- Associated Press - Sunday, May 15, 2016

MUNCIE, Ind. (AP) - For the Spirit of Muncie marching band, this school year has been about rebuilding.

The past two years have been “rough,” as one student put it, referring to the merging of formerly rival high school teams and the fallout from that consolidation.

The Southside and Central marching bands were one of the first groups to consolidate when Southside High School moved in with Central in the fall of 2014. That meant combining two sets of directors and booster clubs, as well as students.

At first it seemed to make them better. That August, the Spirit of Muncie won first place in the Indiana State Fair Band Day competition.

It meant a lot to the community, where marching band is a proud tradition. Muncie Community Schools administrators pointed to them as proof that the consolidation could go smoothly.

But within a school year, it fell apart. Both directors left after one was moved to the middle school, leaving Central scrambling to find a replacement in time to prepare for a competitive summer season.

Neither director went on record with what happened, but it’s clear there was some tension between the two and between the booster clubs. They were still Central vs. South.

After a month, James Widmer was hired, but it was too late to save that summer marching season. And the uncertainty was bad for recruiting. Only about 30 students signed up. That’s nothing compared to the 120 who won the state title the year before.

The day he was hired, Widmer said one of his assets would be that he didn’t see “Central” or “South” students, he would just see the band. He said they would take a summer off and perform locally rather than competing, then be ready for the next year.

He kept his word. About 100 students signed up and started practicing this week.

The road back to competition has included challenges. For one, the program now is missing thousands of dollars from its budget. Since they didn’t compete last year, they didn’t bring home any prize money.

That money usually goes toward buying music, uniforms, props and transportation. New uniforms were purchased in 2014, but much of the other expenses will need to be addressed for the coming season.

“It would help take some stress off,” said color guard director Rhonda Reynolds. “It’s nice when you don’t have to worry about finances and making it happen.”

Some of the responsibility falls on the newly combined booster club, which puts together fundraisers. Widmer said fundraising will be important this year.

It also falls on 25 students Widmer chose to be part of a marching band leadership team. They are meant to help the boosters with fundraising.

They were also responsible for recruiting, which could partially explain how Central went from 30 interested students to 100 in a year. Widmer said they are trying to bring in more students from county schools, such as Delaware Community Schools, that don’t have a marching program.

When Raegan Gordan heard there wouldn’t be a competitive season last year, she was crushed.

Sure, she could go march for another school because her school didn’t have a band - if another school would take her a month into practice - but it meant she wouldn’t get to be a drum major.

Drum majors act as a leader of the band. Usually, qualified students get the position after their junior year. Graduated students are allowed to march the summer after their senior year, but aren’t allowed to take on that leadership role.

Widmer decided to make an exception this year, and Gordon became a drum major.

“It allows me to give back what I was taught,” she said.

Many of her bandmates from 2014 are returning, she said, making up for lost time by marching after they graduate. They remember what it was like to take home that gold.

Over the past 16 years, Muncie has made a name for itself in the world of marching band.

In 11 years, from 2000-2010, the Spirit of South won six times and was runner-up five times. That’s an 11-year streak of taking home first or second place.

In 2012 and 2013, Spirit of South took runner-up to Winchester Community High School before the newly consolidated band won in 2014.

“I hope we win,” Gordon said. “But whatever we do, I’m going to be proud of it because we’ve had a rough two years.”

As usual, the Spirit of Muncie will host one of the local contests in July before participating in the State Fair Band Day on Aug. 6. The goal this year is to bring back the marching band pride the community has become accustomed to.

“We are going to present something the community is proud of,” Widmer said, “and we are going to have fun doing it.”

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Source: The (Muncie) Star Press, https://tspne.ws/21Qea5r

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Information from: The Star Press, https://www.thestarpress.com

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