By Sabrina Lochner
Photo by Gerard Hugel
Posted November 2009
From chefs and seamstresses to event planners and cheerleaders, band parents play many roles to support marching programs throughout the country.
After you march a show, a bottle of water is often the first thing you want to remedy a dry throat. And somehow after every performance, there’s a cooler full of water bottles sitting in the stands ready to quench your thirst. As you guzzle the revitalizing liquid, you don’t consider how the water bottles got there in the first place. It’s like the water appeared by magic.
But busy parents, many times operating behind the scenes, work hard to support the band. They give time, money, water bottles and love without expecting anything in return.
Football Game Duties
During home football games, the Garden City (N.Y.) High School Marching Band Parents Association has multiple responsibilities. Not only do members cheer in the stands and put out bottled water for thirsty band members, but they also move pit equipment on and off the field.
Parents also take on fundraising activities. At the games, parents sell musicrelated trinkets and items like seat cushions to raise money for the band, says parent Jutta Hugel.
They hope to use their funds to purchase new uniforms for the 75-member band, she says.
The Nazareth (Pa.) Area Blue Eagle Marching Band Parents Association fundraises for its 100-member marching band, the 2007 and 2008 US Scholastic Band Association (USSBA) champions, through its football game refreshment stand.
And this is no small operation: Parents prep on Thursday nights, and on Friday nights 40 to 45 parents work the booth, says Bob Meyers, president of the parents association.
Even the absence of three or four people would be quite noticeable since everyone has an important job, according to Meyers. One parent who is a professional chef always makes homemade soups in large quantities to sell at the stand.
“Some people tell us that they actually come to the football games for our soup selections,” Meyers says. The money raised helps pay for trips, instruments, equipment, banners and other things that the school district can’t or won’t pay for.
Likewise, on Friday football nights, Mike Scrimsher, the co-president of the Broken Arrow (Okla.) Band Parents Association, mans his band’s concession stand.
On any given Friday, 40 to 50 parents volunteer their time cooking up to 500 hamburgers, he says.
Band students must eat, too, of course, and band parents often step up to feed them.
Working with local restaurants, the band parents at Broken Arrow assure that the 220-member marching band as well as the 225-member “tradition band”— which performs only in the stands—has pizza, pasta, chicken, burgers or some other food to scarf down before a night of performing. One parent owns a local pizza company that sometimes gives food to the band. Other restaurants donate as well.
In return, the parents association encourages people to dine out at these restaurants to support the local community. The group has even worked out a deal with Charlie’s Chicken, a local restaurant, where a percentage of the bills by in-house diners eating on certain nights will be donated to the Broken Arrow Marching Band.
Competition Chaperones and Coordinators
When the band travels to competitions, parents chaperone to make sure the kids stay safe. At Broken Arrow, the Bands of America Grand National champions in 2006 and a finalist in 2007 and 2008, a crew leader on each bus carries a binder and checks off the names of the students on that bus to make sure everyone is accounted for.
Natalie Scrimsher, co-president of the parents association with her husband, says she usually follows the color guard members while carrying big tubs for them to throw their jackets into before competing. It’s like you become a mom to the whole group, she says.
Not only do parents assist the band while traveling to competitions, but band boosters manage most details entailed in hosting competitions. For the past 20 years, the North Penn Music Aides, the band booster for the North Penn High School marching band in Landsdale, Pa., has hosted the Knight of Sound competition.
Planning for the event begins as far back as May or June, and on the day of the competition, it is not unusual for parents to volunteer from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., says Alane Corrado, co-president of the North Penn Music Aides.
In addition to guiding the 15 to 19 competing bands around campus, parents help with parking, security, trophies and concession stands, she says. The parents also create a program book to distribute at the competition.
The money raised by the North Penn Music Aides supports the 129-member marching band, which has won competitions such as the 2008 USSBA Group 5 Open Class.
The group pays the salaries of 17 to 18 staff members that it could not otherwise afford, Corrado says. And money is given directly to graduating students in the form of five scholarships.
The Nazareth Area Blue Eagle Marching Band also hosts a competition, called Soundfest, as a fundraiser. Primarily run by the band booster, the contest is a tradition that has been going on for 27 years. And in order for the event to be a success, there must be involvement from at least 90 different families, Meyers says. Parents set up tables and make the program before the event, then run the refreshment stands and sell things like air grams, candy grams and buttons.
Nazareth parents have even helped coach parents from other band boosters to show them how to host a competition. Meyers suggests that new boosters interested in hosting competitions seek out a parents group that already puts one on and ask to sit in on meetings and to observe the event.
Not only do parents raise funds, but they also save their bands a lot of money throughout the season.
At Broken Arrow, the color guard forgoes buying flags; instead, band parents sew the beautiful designs for the 55-member section.
About 15 band parents gather at the school and work while the marching band rehearses. Some parents iron; some sew; some cut, says Natalie Scrimsher, mother of a color guard member. And after three-and-a-half hours of handiwork, the parents will migrate outside to see the students perform a final run-through of their halftime show, she says.
Scrimsher says that the flag sewing parties were how she first got involved with the group.
Parents also spend countless hours crafting other color guard equipment. This year, the halftime show requires a 60-foot circular tarp for the color guard, and band parents willingly made it from scratch, Scrimsher adds.
The Broken Arrow Band Parent Association also takes care of the marching band uniforms. If the uniforms don’t fit, about 10 parents will help iron, pin and hem, says Mike Scrimsher. And before games, parents will wheel out garment racks, divided by instrument section, into the band room. After games, the band parents also coordinate uniform washing.
Information Buffs and Cheerleaders
In addition to their hands-on duties, parent association members lend a lot of moral support to the students, director and other parents.
The North Penn Music Aides assign a parent to a specific instrument section, so students have a certain person they can call if they have questions about a trip or something else related to band, Corrado says.
And Mike Scrimsher sends out weekly e-news messages to the parents. Also, the Broken Arrow band parents started a mentor program where experienced band parents adopt a rookie band parent to teach them the ropes. These match-ups give new parents someone to ask questions on a more personal level, Natalie Scrimsher says.
Not only do band parents take care of logistics, but they are also often the biggest cheerleaders.
“The kids know we’re there all the time, and I think it means a lot to them,” Meyers says.
After competitions, Nazareth Area Blue Eagle Marching Band parents gather around the school’s flag pole with banners to applaud the buses driving into the school.
Cheering happens regardless of how well the band placed. After the band returned from Bands of America Grand Nationals in Indianapolis, there were about 200 to 300 people going crazy for the band, Meyers says. When the band does extremely well, the parents group coordinates a town welcoming with the fire and police department. The school buses will be escorted by fire trucks and police cars. “We wake up some of the neighbors, but they get over it,” he says.
Overall, band parents help keep the band afloat while students focus on music and drill.
“Bryan Clayton, who is the director, has said multiple times that he would never be able to do it without the support he has from the parents,” Corrado says. “It takes a village.”
Corrado does not mind giving back to the North Penn Marching Knights because she thinks her children benefit from the program. “They are learning discipline, time management skills; they are playing difficult technical marching music; and they are learning leadership skills,” she says. “It’s not just being out on the field.”
While band parent volunteers may get satisfaction just by seeing their students succeed, don’t forget that they too deserve thanks for their support.
About the Author
Sabrina Lochner, a senior at Syracuse University, is an editorial intern for Halftime Magazine. She is majoring in magazine journalism and political science and minoring in architecture. She currently serves the Syracuse University Marching Band as head drum major and has served as the band’s associate drum major for two years. She has played the clarinet since fifth grade and is a sister of Tau Beta Sigma, National Honorary Band Sorority.