Carmel Band Students, Staff and Alumni Look for the SmileyChris Frick
Celebrating 25 years of the Carmel Marching Band Smiley Face
It was a simple solution to a bigger problem. The weather during the Carmel Band marching season of 1995 had been horrendous. Heavy downpours to snow, the parents were wrapped up in outwear for protection from the elements. Even seeing school colors, the students couldn’t determine where their fans were seated let alone make out any faces in a sea of what seemed to be every group’s colors of blue and yellow blankets, coats and hats. Then marching band vice president and parent, Patt Elff said, “I decided to get out my trusty smiley face friend who was always hanging in my classroom, reminding my lovely middle schoolers to put on a happy face and smile, smile, smile.” The plan was to use the smiley’s, “magical powers so my daughter and her best friend and others could see exactly where we were in any audience,” she said. The plan worked as many students were able to find the bright yellow dot. A few phone calls and an amazing 25 years later, and the smiley face greeting from the fans while the Carmel High School Marching Greyhounds are on the field is as iconic as it is loved.
“Along with seeing a sea of supporters in the stands easily, [the smiley] definitely puts the performers into the exact mindset that I want them in for that moment – smiling and ready to have fun. In what is often a high stakes, high stress moment for the kids, having a quick release where they see smiles and can smile back helps to ease all of that.”
The smiley face has accomplished much more than giving the students a way to find their fans. A sense of pride has always accompanied that big grin. “Seeing [the smiles] in the audience gave me this visual representation of support,” said Christine Hutchison, 2007-11 Carmel Band color guard member and 2011-15 staff. “I loved the simplicity of it too. Nothing branded or luxurious, just a smiley face. They say it takes a village, and truly the amount of parent and family support that has been instilled over the years is amazing,” she said.
Senior drum majors for the 2020 Greyhounds, Mina Krieger and Isabella Topp, weighed in on the tradition. Mina said, “When I see a smiley face, I automatically see joy. Having something like the smiley faces for our supporters to hold up shows how proud of us they are.” Isabella said, “Behind every performance is a mountain of parent volunteers to sew and wash uniforms, make props and transport kids. Seeing the smiley faces is as much a celebration of them as it is for the kids, as the hard work our community puts in is truly astounding.”
Many alumni of the group have fond memories of that smile. “I always noticed the Smiley Faces. I’m also a big sports fan, so it is very much like having the 12th man in football,” said Jordan Lalama, 2001-04 Carmel Band trombone player. The fans are a crucial part of the team’s success. Nerves are normal before a huge performance, no matter how ready you are. The Smileys were a good reminder to take a breath. You have people who love you and care about you up here,” he said. Chris Kaflik, 2003-07 Carmel Band baritone player and drum major said, “Look at the stands when Carmel comes on the field. You’ll notice a ton of smiley faces. As a student, staff member, or audience member you can really feel an almost overwhelming amount of support for the students on the field and the program as a whole.”
The Carmel HS (IN) music program has a long history of setting new standards in the pageantry arts. With multiple BOA Grand National Championships, many Indiana State School Music Association (ISSMA) banners, and several WGI World Champion achievements, it’s difficult to find a lover of scholastic music who isn’t aware of their accolades. The process to success has never been simple but has paid off dividends for alumni still working in all forms of music education.
Kaflik, now the Director of Bands at Brownsburg HS (IN) said, “The Carmel Band shaped who I am today. I became a band director mostly due to the experiences I had with the Carmel Band Program and the directors there. When you walk into a rehearsal at Carmel High School the high standards and expectations fill the room/stadium. I think almost every student that is a part of the Carmel Band program is going to be a success of some kind in their professional lives because of their experience with the program. I can still hear the directors pushing me in my ear when I’m teaching my band. When the students at that program go through their high school years pushing the standards the way they do, and holding themselves to such high expectations, that’s going to transfer to other areas of their lives, even if they are not going into music. I hope I can create that kind of standard of excellence and culture at Brownsburg.”
Lalama serves as program coordinator and choreographer for 23 marching groups and is in his seventh year on the visual team at Broken Arrow HS (OK). He said, “It’s fairly easy for me to point to the impact of the Carmel Band program. I do band for a living full time. I don’t think I would have been ready for a challenge like that without being a student at Carmel High School. Any success that I have doesn’t happen without the guidance of Jeff Young, [Richard] Saucedo, [Michael] Pote, Kreke and [Andrew] Cook. They are the ones who started me on this road. It certainly doesn’t happen without the parent support at Carmel and the pride that they take in their kids and the program itself. I could point to most every great aspect of my adult life and somehow intertwine the band experience as a crucial component.”
Hutchison teaches several guard programs in Indiana. She said, ”Truthfully, every aspect and quality I have now, I would have to credit back to the Carmel Band program and educators— both in my professional life and as an educator myself. Being in the color guard is actually what lead me to wanting to pursue a degree and career in the tourism and events industry. Without it, I may have ended up doing something entirely different. It was the dedication and strive for excellence that I think impacted me the most. The staff taught me how to learn something new, how to push myself, how to take care of logistics, and how to lead and work with others. I feel so lucky that we had such great staff members and parents there to support us. At the same time, we were truly taught to be self-sufficient, to care and be dedicated to our group, and that we had to strive for excellence in everything we did on and off the field.”
“Carmel parents are the best and you always knew how to find them because of that longtime tradition. As high school kids, students can sometimes be embarrassed by their parent’s enthusiasm for them—but on the starting line, I witnessed first-hand the comfort, love and support they felt by seeing those Carmel smileys.”
The support that started with a simple smile hasn’t changed over the years. Topp said, “Marching band has most impacted my confidence. As a member, I was forced to learn quickly and demonstrate for others. As a student leader, I’ve grown more than I ever thought possible. The confidence I’ve earned from making mistakes and leading such an incredible program has already helped me reach out to others and prepare for college. I’m very grateful for our band directors giving me a chance to show leadership in this way. Lalama said, “The smiley faces were more than just a marching band thing for a lot of the students. They were a constant reminder from the parents, that no matter what, we have your back.” Lalama continued, “There are parents from the Carmel program that I still talk to, still ask advice from and still have a genuine love for. And it’s true, they still have my back no matter what. I think that’s the real cool thing about the Smiley Face. It’s a legacy. And it’s cool to be a very small part of that legacy,” said Lalama. Kreiger said, “The leadership opportunity that being a drum major has given me is going to benefit me tremendously in my future. Being in such a large group pushes you to make connection and meet to people. My leadership skills and social skills that I’ve been able to develop will stay with me for the rest of my life.”
“In 2005, the year Carmel won their first national championship, there was a rock out part of the show in the closer. I was on my knees in a power slide kind of stance. Even though Mr. Kreke told me to stop, I would always play one handed and wave and point to the section full of smiley faces during that impact.”
The smiley face has helped bring the students and parents together for 25 years. Kreke said, “It’s an easily identifiable way to see all of our wonderful supporters in the stands and know that the entire Carmel Bands family is hard at work helping our kids be the very best they can be.” Kreke continued, “For me personally, it’s also a great reminder of all of the past parents who have helped this group over the years – especially Patt Elff and her late husband Denny. I absolutely love that this has grown into a tradition for our group from a very simple beginning,” he said.
Denny Elff was always a hard-working field crew parent. He was instrumental in making sure the first Carmel semi-trailer brakes and tires were safe for operation in 1996. A few years after the smiley appeared on the scene, Denny was unable to assist with set-up. Patt said, “When my husband got sick with cancer, my daughter and her friends in the band would look out into the audience and would know that even in the face of any adversity, the only thing to do is smile, smile, smile and that he was there in the stands.” She continued, “Anyone who looks at them can’t help but smile back and our kids know where to find the Marching Greyhound faithful. Just look for the happy smiling face in the stands!”