Community support significant in Warren band's victories

Nov. 18, 2013 @ 08:08 PM

WARRENTON — Getting a band ready for competition takes practice and hard work. And there’s the additional task of getting the band to and from the competition efficiently and safely.

When that band is the 58-member Dynamic Marching Machine and Steel Stix drum line of Warren County Schools, the dimensions of the task become clearer.

Getting those young people, their instruments and their gear to Atlanta and back without incidents or drama earlier this month was a major logistical undertaking. Band director Taylor Whitehead accomplished it with help from 48 parents and school system staff members.

“It was super, super, super difficult,” he said.

But the band successfully made the trip to the National High School High Stepping Marching Band competition on the first weekend in November.

And it returned to Warren County a national champion.

Competing against 23 bands from around the country, the band won overall awards for percussion, majorettes and flag runner (runner-up). Class A awards included first place for band, drum major, percussion, flags, majorette and general effect. The band received second place awards for dancers, musicians and marching and maneuvering.

A bonus for the students was attending the basketball game between the Atlanta Hawks and the Toronto Raptors, where Steel Stix performed in the pre-game show.

But all this wouldn’t have been possible without a great collective effort.

First, there was the expense of the trip. When Whitehead divided up the anticipated cost among the students, it came to about $200 each. They started conducting fundraisers back in the summer.

“Although we do fundraising so we can travel to competitions, there has been a lot of community support,” he said.

The students’ efforts plus contributions from community groups and businesses made the trip financially possible.

Then there were the logistics of getting students, adults, luggage and band equipment to Atlanta.

Two buses were chartered. Luggage went on top. The last few seats carried larger instruments.

In spite of crowded conditions and the long bus rides down and back, the trip went without major incidents.

Shauna Davis, president of the band booster club and a teacher of personal finance at Warren County High School, accompanied the band.

“This group of children this year is the best disciplined and dedicated group I’ve seen,” she said.

Gloria Hargrove, whose daughter Alani is a majorette, agreed with that assessment, saying, “The kids were well behaved.”

“Everyone got along quite well,” said Taiya Boyd, an 11th-grade clarinet player.

A major factor in the band’s success is team spirit.

Darauna Davis, daughter of Shauna Davis, is in the ninth grade and plays the snare drum.

“We have a motto,” she said. “This is our band.”

Joseph Stanberry, an 11th-grade trumpet player, said, “Unity makes us perform better.”

Whitehead has encouraged that unity.

“We win together and we lose together,” he said.

Competing at the national level didn’t seem to faze these students or make them overly nervous.

Victoria Richardson, a freshman who plays the clarinet, said, “You get into performance mode. You do what you got to do.”

Stanberry said, “At every competition, I’m nervous, but when we get there I’m less nervous.”

In addition to the awards, the trip had other benefits.

“It was a lot of fun for a lot of kids who never ventured out of Warren County before,” Hargrove said. “It was the first time my daughter had been to Atlanta. We practiced at Morehouse College and visited the MLK monument.”

Almeca Woodard, whose son Stanley McGrady Jr. plays bass drum, said, “It was a great experience just seeing my son out there.”

Whitehead, who is in his 17th year in Warren County, said the first few years were rough as he built the band program.

“It’s far exceeded my expectations,” he added. “I never would have said we would win a national competition.”

But they have done just that, with five national championships for the band and seven national drum line championships for Steel Stix.

Whitehead said the band has great support from Superintendent Ray Spain, the school board, principals and staff.

For example, during the summer Seth Saeugling, a special education teacher in Warren County, joined with Jack Rodenfeld, a teacher at Eaton-Johnson Middle School in Henderson, to bicycle from San Francisco to Virginia Beach to raise money for the band. It took them 50 days to complete the trip, which raised $1,100 in contributions.

Saeugling said five of his students are in the band. The impact of the band on them is powerful, he said.

“Some of the special education students who are struggling in class are rock stars in the band,” Saeugling said.

Whitehead said the students’ experience in the band carries over into other aspects of their schoolwork.

“So many of my kids are excelling in the classroom as well,” Whitehead said. “You can’t participate in band without discipline. The things I teach them, they apply in the classroom.

“We’ve changed the mindset of what people think these students can accomplish. Who would have thought we could take a group of African-American students that society says are going to be failures and turn them into winners? That’s more rewarding than the awards we’ve won.”

Contact the writer at dirvine@hendersondispatch.com.