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Marching Wildkats earn State Runner-Up at Indiana State Fair

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The Kokomo High School Marching Wildkats celebrated a successful competition season with a record-breaking performance at the Indiana State Fair Band Day on Aug. 2.

The Wildkats earned State Runner-Up honors – tying their best finish ever – with a score of 91.925, which was the highest score the Marching Wildkats have achieved at the state fair competition. The KHS marching band also earned the caption award for Best Visual during the preliminaries.

The Marching Wildkats challenged themselves this season with a show titled, “Mother Nature.” This show explored the human relationship with Mother Nature and how people are affecting the planet.

“This year we really tapped into the intellectual design of our program – from the drill to the music, to the movements performed by all marching members, to the uniforms, and to the guard work,” Marching Wildkat Color Guard Director Deanne Wideman said. “All of these things could be recognized immediately at the beginning of the show.”

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Band members wore uniforms in shades of brown to represent earth, soil, and trees. The guard members wore shades of green to represent foliage, creatures, etc. “Mother Nature” wore blue to reflect the water, sky, and clouds. The guard members introduced other colors throughout the show, including reds and oranges. The guard also used their equipment – rifles, sabers, and swing flags – to highlight the different aspects of Mother Nature, including joy, harshness, and beauty.

“Something we heard every week from the judges was that they had absolutely no questions as to what our show was about,” said Brandon Anderson, the Marching Wildkats’ new assistant band director. “This was intentional. Every design choice we made this season was to support our story.”

Reflecting on the season, senior Marching Wildkat and flute player Gwendolyn Arvay said she was proud of what she and her team accomplished.

 “This season is one I am going to enjoy looking back on for many years,” she said.

Senior Marching Wildkat Harrison Reed, who plays snare on the drumline agreed, saying the entire experience this season was completely different.

“As seniors, we were given opportunities to step up as student leaders from day one, and it was amazing,” Reed said.

Anderson came to Kokomo Schools in July after teaching instrumental music in Indianapolis and Brazil, Ind. The assistant band director wasn’t sure what to expect from the Marching Wildkats in terms of rehearsal climate and discipline level.

“I was so happy to discover that the Marching Wildkats are some of the hardest and most flexible workers I have ever taught,” Anderson said. “From the very beginning, these students were willing to try new things and give my ideas a chance. Their hard work continued throughout the summer.”

Arvay added that the Marching Band practiced nine hours a day for three weeks to perfect the show. It was hard work, she noted, but not a chore.

“It always felt fun,” Arvay said. “The freshmen connected well with the seniors; we felt like a family.”

Wideman agreed.

“In our marching band program, we are more than just sections (guard, band, percussion),” the guard director said. “We are one ensemble. We are one family. Our show this season was not easy. The students were managing difficult drill, while playing their music or spinning their equipment. We asked all of the students, both band and guard, to increase their movement vocabulary. Our students worked extremely hard.”

That work paid off. The Marching Wildkats earned first place at the Anderson Invitational, first place at the Muncie Central Invitational, and second place at the Winchester Invitational, before finishing the season in second place at the State Fair Band Day. The Anderson marching band earned State Championship honors, edging out the Marching Wildkats by 0.225 points in this two-band finale, as 3 full points separated the Wildkats and the third-place finishers.

The Marching Wildkats learned a lesson from staff this season: the effort put forth in performances, and the hard work before the performances, matter more than the end result.

“One thing that I always try to help students understand is that bringing home a trophy is not the goal of marching band,” Anderson said. “The goal of the program should be to work as hard as possible, to improve all summer long, and to perform to the absolute best of your abilities. If you do all of that, and manage to win, bringing home a trophy is a bonus. After each competition students had about 10 seconds to celebrate. After that we discussed our main takeaways from the day, what went well and what needed more work. Following our state fair performance, the band finally was able to celebrate all of our hard work. I was thrilled to see that the students were receptive to our approach and kept their hard work going all summer.”

Other competitors noticed this approach and how it manifested itself at competitions. Wideman said other directors approached them to comment on how kind the Marching Wildkats were at competitions.

“When we were announced as the Runner-Up at State Fair Band Day, and Anderson was named Champion, both groups turned to one another and started hugging,” Wideman said. “I love how we could be competitors and friends at the same time, while showing respect for the work that went into producing our shows. Our students represented Kokomo High School with pride, grace, and humility. I am so proud of how the students carried themselves, how they treated others this season, and how they responded to the results at each contest. When I look at this year’s marching band, the staff, and the parents, I see champions… both on, and off, the field.”

Anderson showed his gratitude for the support he received during his first season with the Marching Wildkats.

“I am honored to have been welcomed into the Kokomo family so quickly,” Anderson said. “The whirlwind summer has given me a chance to start building relationships with these band students. This amazing season would not have been possible if not for the help of our amazing staff: Deanne Wideman, Justin Ekstrom, Dylan Humburg, Alyssa Humburg, Nikaylah Lawson, Amanda Purcell, Hope Turcheck, Michael Rennaker, Bethie Marsh, and Katlynn Craig. I also want to recognize our parents, who helped throughout the summer. Finally, a huge thanks goes to John Pinson and all administrators at Kokomo High School for providing support for our marching band and for supporting the arts at KHS.”