State Fair Band Day Students Miss More Than Funnel Cakes and Shake-Ups

State Fair Band Day Students Miss More Than Funnel Cakes and Shake-Ups

The Indiana State Fair has a long tradition of serving up the most artery-clogging foods, amazing 4-H representatives, seemingly death-defying carnival attractions and above all, some of the finest marching bands in the Hoosierland on Band Day. Last week, the Indiana State Fair Board announced the cancellation of the annual event causing the cancellation of Band Day due to Covid-19 concerns. Since 1947, Band Day has taken place every year.

“The impact will certainly be felt for a long time. Teachers all over the state have risen to the challenge of e-learning. I believe we provided our students a strong opportunity over the last few months however, we have looked forward to using the summer to reaffirm skills and rebuild. While we are still planning some sort of summer season, the lack of competitions effects how we approach it.”

Brandon Anderson – Band Director, Kokomo HS

In 1926, the first music contest was held at the Indiana State Fair however, no marching was involved. Although Whiteland High School was selected as the initial champion, they were subsequently disqualified when it was discovered they used other Johnson County students. Ligonier HS, now West Noble HS, was then handed the title. The idea of a high school band contest faded, but in 1939 high school bands were brought back for a parade until 1941, when World War II forced cancellation of the fair.

Anderson High School Marching Band State Fair Band Day performance from 1957.

In 1946, the Indiana State Fair resumed. Band Day began in 1947 with less than 25 bands competing in one of three classes. The Class A champion Grant County Combined Band consisted of students from seven different schools – Van Buren, Jefferson Township, Gas City, Jonesboro, Swayzee, Sweetser and Fairmount. In 1948, the contest switched to the open class format, which still exists today. In 1952, to celebrate the State Fair’s centennial, the contest moved to North Meridian Street in downtown Indianapolis. The contest was held again near the World War Memorial building in 1953 before permanently returning to the track in front of the grandstand at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.

Monroe Central High School Marching Band State Fair Band Day performance from 1969.

David Holscher, past Band Day Coordinator and historian extraordinaire said, “The largest number of entries that I’ve found was in 1962 when 107 bands entered. Ninety-four of those bands showed up,” making it the largest number of bands to participate in Band Day. The numbers began to dwindle in the 1960’s due to the Indiana School Reorganization Act in 1959, resulting in many school consolidations.

Over 880 different bands have participated at Band Day since 1947 including a reserve band that Vincennes Lincoln brought four times, in addition to their primary band. The other champions in 1947 were Rochester in Class B and Class C was won by Francesville.

Wapahani High School Marching Band State Fair Band Day performance from 1976.

Although the entire contest hasn’t been cancelled until this year, some performance day changes have occurred. Doug Fletcher, Band Day Coordinator and most winningest director in Band Day history said, “I can remember in 1975 as a student marching in the Madison Heights HS Band of Pirates, the day show was on the track. It rained after prelims and the finals were moved to the inside all-weather track.” “Fans still watched from the grandstand but judges were moved to the stage,” he said.

In 1995, finals, more commonly known as the night show, were rained out. Placings were based on scores from the day show,  prelims. Considering the two-show elimination format that has been utilized since 1967, that evening show is the only one cancelled due to rain.

Richmond High School Marching Band State Fair Band Day performance from 1981.

“The summer of 1984 was a tough year for rain with prelims starting much later than normal. Finals were still held and the event ended after midnight,” said Holscher. “It rained in 1987 during finals, but the show continued on the main track,” he said. Southport HS, under the direction of MTC Hall of Famer Jef Furr, won the title during a rain-soaked night. Jef said, “My cousin was in the band at Veedersburg HS and they did State Fair. I remember going to see it as a kid. Then as a Freshman at Noblesville HS we did Band Day and we were 12th.”

Southmont High School Marching Band State Fair Band Day performance from 1981.

“My goal as a band director was to take my band to Band Day. The Alexandria HS [band director position] came open and I jumped at that job because Alex did Band Day.” The band placed 17, 10, 7 and 3rd in subsequent years. “My love for State Fair Band Day continued at Southport HS. Starting in the summer of 1984, we grew and got better and won State Fair Band day in 1987. I have many awesome memories of that band, those kids and parents and the win was just the dream come true.”

Jef Furr – MTC Hall of Famer | past Band Director, Southport HS

Northeastern High School Marching Band from 2019.

The students, parents and staff impacted by the cancellation will long feel the sting of missing the event. The cancellation, “no doubt will impact these groups and you really feel for the seniors. They have had so much taken away and there were probably several that wanted to march this summer, said Fletcher. Lovingly referred to as Super Seniors, postgraduates are allowed to participate the summer after graduation. “It is my hope that directors use this as a learning moment . . . LIFE certainly throws you curves,” Doug said. “I’m hopeful [the cancellation of Band Day] will excite and motivate the students for summer 2021,” said Holscher.

Winchester High School Marching Band from 2019.

Some bands will feel a financial impact due to a lack of prize money from the summer season. Bands are compensated based on placement during the Central Indiana Track Show Association (CITSA) and State Fair Band Day competitions. Another concern for track bands in 2021 is that half or more of the group will have little marching band experience. Other schools are choosing a different outlet for the fall season.

Jay County High School Marching Band from 2019.

Christopher Sparks, color guard director at Mooresville HS said, “As of right now we are only planning to do a Pep Band tune at football games and hopefully that will get the members excited to be back and performing again. We’re just going to have to trust in each other, stay calm and really band together when we do get to go back.” The Mooresville HS Color Guard was the recipient of the AA Class Best Auxiliary Award at State Fair in 2019.

Kokomo High School Marching Band from 2019.

“From a training perspective, we’re going to lose a lot of chances to become more comfortable in front of an audience. Younger members will miss out on training on new equipment or have to work by themselves at the beginning which can be very frustrating.”

Christopher Sparks – Color Guard Director, Mooresville HS

Muncie Central High School Marching Band from 2019.

Directors are focused on safety while finding avenues to keep the students engaged. Brandon said, “Our students look forward to marching band all year long and the State Fair has been seen as the obvious goal for a long time. The cancelation has certainly hurt morale, which could potentially hurt enrollment in general.” Still, staff members are confident in future opportunities. “The hope is that this is a one time issue that we can resolve quickly as things go back to normal. In the meantime, we are exploring every possible avenue to provide our students with a quality musical experience in a safe environment,” said Anderson.

Fletcher was a student at Madison Heights HS in the mid 70’s and became a band director soon after college graduation. He fielded a group at Band Day 24 years of his high school teaching career. Band Day had a major impact on his life from the beginning.

“My first two years as a high school student stand out. In 1973 we had been told all summer that we were going to win. I was a naive freshman and did not know any better. We drew to march first and ended up placing 14th,” he said. “I was devastated and remember it taking a few days to get past it.”

Doug Fletcher – Band Day Coordinator

Richmond High School Marching Band from 2019.

Years ago, bands would enter the track on the back side and march around, in order, to get to the starting line. Fletcher continued, “In 1974, Mr. [James C.] Patton gathered us up before the awards, marched us around the track for a second time and we stood at attention in full uniform for the awards. People had no idea what we were doing. I took the results so much better that year,” he said. Doug said, “I always feel a sense of pride being in the first band to stand in a block in uniform for awards at the State Fair. That is something that some other directors eventually adopted and one I always had my students do.”

Anderson High School Marching Band from 2019.

The Anderson School Corporation holds the most Band Day titles at 15; Anderson HS has seven, Highland HS six and Madison Heights captured two prior to consolidation of all three schools into one.

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