Hughlen White can hear his band warming up through the door of his office.
The Bridgeport High School band director said his upperclassmen students knew to come in early Monday to prepare for an upcoming month of daily rehearsals.
“I didn’t call anybody,” White said. “I didn’t text anybody. I didn’t send anybody an email saying, ‘when you get here, get things set up.’”
This display of initiative by the students couldn’t come at a better time, White said. The band is in the middle of a period of unprecedented growth.
“The program had 40 students two years ago in May. We have 110 on the roll for this fall,” White said. “Our retention rate over the last few years has been more than 90 percent.”
With the sudden influx of students, White said the directors will need to rely on the band’s leadership officers to set a strong example.
The next few weeks are a crucial time for the band, White said. The week before, incoming freshmen took their first marching steps on the gridiron. Everyone must be ready for the first game.
This even includes lessons on proper standing posture.
“It’s different,” White said. “It’s not just standing. It’s a different position. It’s relaxed but also uniformed. You can’t leave anything to chance. We have to be as detailed as possible, and you can’t let one person not feel successful because you didn’t cover a detail.”
Across Big Sandy Creek, 50 freshmen at Decatur High School are stepping onto the field for the first time.
Head band director Eric McNiel said the band spent its first day of rehearsal covering marching and playing fundamentals.
Like Bridgeport, McNiel said his band is putting strong emphasis on student leaders. This included special training for one drum major.
“Holt (Garner) went to Camp 43, which is George Bush’s leadership camp, and he brought back a lot,” McNiel said.
Garner then worked with the band’s leadership team to sharpen their skills as influential members of the band.
Rehearsal commences at 1 each afternoon, but the band hall opens at 10 a.m. for students who want extra time to practice under a director’s supervision.
“We’re not requiring it,” McNiel said, but we’re asking them to come on in if they need help on anything.”
To complete a marching show, the group must learn to function as a cohesive unit during summer band. McNiel said this also includes forming strong interpersonal relationships off the field.
With the extra month of preparation, McNiel believes his students will be ready for their first Friday night football game, as well as the ever-intimidating first day of school.
“This year, we have 119 kids,” McNiel said. “They come in with that big of a family.”