An undefeated Bulloch County squad is “playing” Saturday at South Effingham High School as the top-seeded team with a state title on the line.
The 80-strong squad is The Swarm — Southeast Bulloch High’s amazing marching band — and they will compete on Mustang Field in Guyton in the finals of the 2013 Georgia Marching Band Series. Twelve teams qualified for the state finals, which gets underway with Banks County performing at 1:20 p.m. And as the band that earned the highest marks during the season, The Swarm will take the field last — at 7:20 p.m. Saturday.
Leading up to the Mustang Field performance is a ton of hard work, dedication, creativity and fun that all began shortly after the 2012 season ended. Band director Matt Olsen, along with his assistants Joey Mitchell, band director at Southeast Bulloch Middle School, and Carie Olsen, his wife, began mulling over music and a theme for the 2013 season.
Olsen said they decided on a “crazy” theme because, he told me back in July, “We’re all kind of crazy anyway.” They looked at music and discussed costumes/uniforms along with marching and dancing ideas.
Then comes boot camp. As he does every year since he arrived as band director at Southeast Bulloch 11 years ago, Olsen conducts a band boot camp in the middle of July. That’s the 97-degrees, sticky, rainy, sweaty part of every south Georgia summer. For anyone who wants to be a member of The Swarm, they must participate in an intensive two weeks of conditioning, training and rehearsal that begins at 9 a.m. each morning, takes a dinner break at 4 and returns for two more hours at 5:30.
Despite the demands, almost no one drops out and a commitment to the band is borne out of that difficult two weeks.
But one point is made clear by Olsen. The SEB band room is filled with trophies from the success of past years. However, “we have never started a season with the goal of winning,” Olsen said. “We always aim to play as well as we can and leave smiles on the faces of the audience. You have to be proud of what you accomplished whether or not the judges opinions fall in your favor.”
The hard work continued as school began with band classes and two and a half hour practices every Tuesday and Thursday after school. Beginning with halftime shows at home football games, The Swarm started unveiling parts of its “Off the Deep End” show to live audiences.
At the Portal-SEB game Aug. 31, the band only played and marched to its four-minute opening set of “Crazy” songs by Ozzie Osborne, Gnarls Barkley, Britney Spears, Beyonce and Fine Young Cannibals.
As games went into September, Olsen added Queen’s “Bicycle Race” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” and then Franz Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody” and, finally, the closing number of Jacques Offenbach's riotous "Can-Can."
So, when the band traveled to Thomson High School, west of Augusta, on Oct. 5 for its first Georgia Marching Band Series competition, they were, in a word, ready.
The Swarm, competing as a Class 3-A band, earned Grand Champion honors, beating eight other bands, including four Class 5-A bands. The next week, SEB was named Grand Champion of the 37th East Georgia Marching Band Festival held at Statesboro High. After taking a week off during fall break, SEB continued its dominance, earning Grand Champion awards at the Jeff Davis High contest Oct. 26 and again at the Marching Mustang Invitational Nov. 2.
Sometime after 8 p.m. Saturday, SEB will learn if it will finish unbeaten and earn the school’s first Finals Champions trophy.
I have a son in 11th grade who has had the honor of being a member of The Swarm since he was a ninth grader. Here’s my totally biased view of what will happen Saturday — they’re going to kick butt!!
Actually, I do believe they will win, but because human judges will decide the scores that determine the state champion, that subjective element makes it impossible to know for sure. I do know they will be fun to watch. No other band will match their creativity or difficulty of marching. And no other band will have as loud a cheering section in the stands as The Swarm parents and supporters who will be at South Effingham Saturday evening.
“The kids in this program this year have an amazing work ethic,” Olsen said. “They have taken everything we have thrown at them in stride. They are the reason for this incredible season.”
Jim Healy is operations manager for the Statesboro Herald. He can be reached at (912) 489-9402.