Trip to BOA Grand Nationals Brings Vandegrift ChampionshipChris Frick
It’s no secret that planning a marching band show takes months of meetings, research and constant reworking of ideas. Putting together a design team to create the product and getting that product on the field is another enormous undertaking. Making the programming come to life with 300 plus students and a small army of parents and supporters raises the stakes to the highest in the pageantry arts. The team at Vandegrift High School in Texas found a way to quietly achieve a massive set of goals and bring home the 2019 BOA National Championship.
“Creating a culture of family and hard work has been integral to the success of our students. Focusing inward on our own expectations keeps standards high and helps not have an overly competitively driven organization.”
Vandegrift HS (TX) opened 11 years ago. Mike Howard has been with the program since its inaugural year and Director of Bands for the last six years. Howard and program coordinator Jeremy Spicer begin the programing discussions for the next concept toward the end of the marching season. The discussions ramp up just after the first of the year. Visual designer for the past eight years, Jeff Sacktig said, “The team sort of went back to basics. We wanted to truly highlight the strength of the band. Their strong prowess as musicians being able to play and deliver highly technical and powerful music.” He continued, “The groups strength as a movement ensemble. They are trained well and we wanted to display that strength through form and body.”
The educational aspects of the Vandegrift program are well established from the onset of entrance into the program. Achievement of the material presented stands as the hallmark of the rapid growth and success of the entire band program. Katie VanDoren, Assistant Band Director said, “Every student needs something different to be the best version of themselves, and our staff does a great job motivating and coaching each student to the best of their ability. We work hard as a student leadership team and staff to find out what motivates each student to work hard and push their own personal limits each day.” Sacktig echoed those thoughts. “The group has a meticulous rehearsal etiquette. Expectations are clear well in advance to every student and their accountability to perform is required. The environment is positive and the information given is clear and detailed,” said Sacktig.
Motivating the individuals of a large group may sometimes feel overwhelming. Howard believes this motivation comes directly from the staff. He said, “The students need and deserve to have an energetic and well-organized staff. The staff works tirelessly to coach the students on performance goals, musicianship and citizenship expectations.” Being an effective coach is imperative. “With marching band, coaching is a big part of the job…motivating groups of students to be the best version of themselves is a game-changer when it comes to developing a strong performance edge,” Howard said.
“It’s amazing to work with a team of educators and students to create something special. To watch young people learn, grow and excel. I’m fortunate to be a part of it all.”
After months of planning, writing and teaching, the group was ready to take on the biggest stage in marching band at the BOA Grand Nationals in Indianapolis. The band area opened at 4 a.m. with the first of three flights leaving just after 6 a.m. Wednesday. Upon arrival in Indianapolis and dinner, the group had a brief visual rehearsal. Thursday was a day to prepare for the weekend and spend some time in Lucas Oil Stadium. Percussion students attend a PASIC workshop as well. After two rehearsal blocks during the day, the students joined the Leander HS (TX) Band for a group dinner.
Friday morning wake up calls came early with the prelims performance at 9:15 a.m. Howard said, “Watching our students take the field for the first performance was a fantastic experience. After opening Vandegrift 11 years prior, it was a special moment to see the band performing on this national stage. I spent several years trying to pick the year when I felt the program was ready to take this step…and here it finally was!” Sacktig said, ““There were nerves involved with their first performance in Lucas Oil Stadium. It can be intimidating. But that was a learning experience and they grew from that experience.”
The team grabbed some lunch and had an afternoon rehearsal before returning for the announcement of the semi-finalist bands. The group was slated to perform in semi-finals at 1:30 p.m. the next day.
Saturday morning started with the final rehearsal of the season. Howard said, “The morning of semi-finals, the kids were on-fire in their rehearsal and continued that positive trajectory through their finals performance late that evening.” At the end of the rehearsal, the band came in for the last bring it in and that created a defining moment of the weekend. Sacktig said, “Mike talked about the positives of the rehearsal, what they needed to do tonight and had the band thank everyone involved. The best moment was scanning the faces of all the students and watching all 300+ of them connecting with Mike, be focused and attentive and seeing them all wanting to be great. There was a unifying determination with the group that was powerful.”
The semi-finals performance was a step up from prelims. “The students’ semi-finals performance was a turning point for the weekend. The students were a little tentative being in Lucas Oil for the first-time during prelims, but were firing on all cylinders in semi finals,” said Howard. Vandegrift swept all AAAA caption awards and was named class champion. It was time to take the final steps this season in Grand National Finals.
The band had an amazing performance that evening. Sacktig said, “I think each performance was better than the last, so their best show was at finals and this doesn’t surprise me with this group. They are always in learning mode, trying to figure out how to perform better.”
“Watching our students come off the field after their finals performance will always be a special memory for me. They performed well and, more importantly, for the right reasons: to emotionally connect with and move the audience and each other. At that point, the score and placement didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered to them was the incredible memory they had just shared as a band family, performing in Lucas Oil.”
The awards ceremony included plenty of drama. Best Music was awarded to the Hebron HS (TX) band. Avon HS (IN) was announced for Best Visual performance. As the placings continued to be read, anxiety was certainly high. Vandegrift captured the General Effect caption and moments later were named the Grand Nationals Champions.
This was the band’s first trip to Indianapolis that turned into an historic moment for the students, parents and also the school. VanDoren said, “Our students and families have always had a sense of pride in being a part of the Vandegrift Band and Vision Dance Company, but now the whole Vandegrift Community feels that pride.” She continued, “Our experience hasn’t changed the way the staff or the students approach the program as a whole. We still work hard and work to Define the Standard in all aspects of our program.” Howard agreed. “This honor has brought an added sense of pride within our community and school. Prior to this event, the band had been established as one of the cornerstones of our school and because of this, the community was beside themselves with this accomplishment. We try not to base the success of our program on competitive results…this exciting event is symptomatic of the outstanding work and culture that the students have created at VHS,” Howard said.
2019 BOA Grand National Champions – Vandegrift Marching Band and Vision Dance Company.
The group enjoyed an evening of celebration before making the trip back to Austin the next day.
What started 11 years prior and a show design in the making for nearly a year had come to an incredible end. The students, staff, parents and entire community had achieved at a level reserved for only a few in the country.
“Bands of America does a wonderful job running this event and creating a life-changing experience for our students. I am confident, championship or no championship, that the students will remember their experience in Indianapolis for many years to come. The students felt like rock stars the entire time and I can’t credit BOA enough for the environment they have created at Grand Nationals.”