If members of the Blue Devils Marching Band have an extra spring in their step, it could be the music of Paul Simon — or the $38,000 worth of new uniforms.
After 13 years of use, Statesboro High School’s previous band uniforms were nearly as old as the incoming freshmen. The Band Boosters had been raising money for years toward a planned upgrade.
The 125 new uniforms arrived in late September, most in sizes for the current 100 or so band members. When the band hosted the East Georgia Marching Band Festival and Championships on Oct. 6, the musicians strutted in their new threads for the first time.
Since then, the uniforms have seen action at football halftime shows, the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair Parade and another band competition, the Sound of Silver Invitational.
“The uniforms are great. They’re not baggy,” said Matt Bridges, a 17-year-old senior who serves as low-brass section leader. “The old ones I almost considered as burlap sacks with color. They weren’t comfortable. But these are nice. They’re sleek looking.”
The old uniforms were reportedly made from a wool blend. Students say that the new ones, of a synthetic material, are lighter and cooler. Shaye Sweeney, 15, a freshman who plays clarinet, added that marchers can actually bend in the new pants.
The pants are gray; the jackets, navy blue with a white sash.
“We sound good and we look good,” said drum major Carina Kartchner, 16 and a junior.
The school paid about $6,000 for the “buckets” as the hats are called, and the SHS Band Boosters paid approximately $32,000 for the rest of the outfits, reported Deborah Champion, Band Boosters co-treasurer.
Champion, whose daughter Mikala is in the band, also serves informally as its publicist. The boosters have been working toward the uniforms for at least five years, she said. Concessions at varsity and junior varsity football games are the group’s largest revenue source. Band members and boosters raised additional money by selling cotton candy at the fair and the local rodeo, washing cars, selling fruit and serving chicken dinners, among other projects.
“We truly appreciate the support of the community and the hard work of all the Band Boosters through the years in this effort,” Champion said in an email. “We couldn't have done it without all the support. Band uniforms are expensive and many high school students never get the experience of a new uniform.”
The SHS Band Boosters are proud of their band students, who “work hard and deserve to look sharp,” she added.
For the past two weeks, the band has been practicing Monday, Tuesday and Thursday before performing at Friday night football games. With the extra practices, musicians and flag corps are preparing for the Marching Mustang Invitational, a competition at South Effingham High School scheduled for Saturday. Because the event is part of the Georgia Marching Band Series, Statesboro High will compete against other schools in its enrollment bracket, AAAA.
At the Sound of Silver competition, hosted by Pierce County High School in Blackshear on Oct. 13, bands were grouped by their count of horn players and percussionists. Competing as AAA, the Marching Blue Devils placed fourth overall among five bands in that class.
But in separate judging for band elements, the Blue Devils’ color guard won first place in the classification, while Kartchner received the third-place award among drum majors. Competing bands also earned festival ratings, and judges awarded the Statesboro High band Superiors – the highest rating – in overall performance, drum major and color guard, and an Excellent – the second highest rating – for its percussion section.
Because bands generally don’t compete at events they host, the Marching Blue Devils’ show during the East Georgia Marching Band Festival and Championships was only an exhibition. This was the 36th year that Statesboro High has hosted the event, and 11 bands competed. It, too, serves as a fundraiser, and now that the uniforms have been paid for, the money raised will now go to future band trips and other needs, Champion said.
In competitions and at football games, the band is performing a show called “Essential Simon.” Arranged by band director Lee Collins, the show celebrates Paul Simon’s music on the 25th anniversary of his “Graceland” album.
The band plays and sways to a bit of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” combined with more of “You Can Call Me Al,” in the first number before marching with “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” and “The Sound of Silence.” Then “Late in the Evening” concludes the 10-minute show.
Bridges said he is very happy to have the new uniforms for his senior year and thinks “Essential Simon” is one of the band’s best shows yet.
“It’s fun. It’s lively. It’s different,” he said. “It’s most definitely different because it’s from another time, but it’s very good music, and the crowds usually love it.”
The uniforms aren’t all that’s new with the band. Collins arrived as director this summer. With 104 students now marching, participation is down some from nearly 130 students last year with then-director Joe Ferguson. Both Ferguson and Collins had referred to a drop in participation as an often expected consequence of a change in directors.
But Collins said he was wishing for at least 100 band members this season and is happy to see that come true.
He is also working with the steel drum band, which has already performed twice during lunchtimes at the school, and with the jazz band. He has also formed a “party band,” a 12-student ensemble specializing in fun, upbeat music. In September, they played a fundraiser at Moe’s Southwest Grill and at the Farmers Market.
Other than Saturday’s competition, the marching band will perform only at football games from here out, with the exact number depending on the team’s success in the region play-in and beyond.
“I hope we get a lot more to go to,” Collins said. “I’m a band director who likes football.”