We’re Still Set

One year after the Bentonville (Ark.) High School band lost a staff member, a drum major reflects on the tragedy and the lessons learned.

Photos by Eric Molle, PictureNWA.com

Band is hard. So is life.

This is why I love band. Not much else in high school prepares you for the trials and tribulations that the “real world” brings. Sports, such as football and soccer, allow a second chance to get the play or pass correct. In marching band, there are no interceptions. There are no first downs. There are no extra points. In band, you have ONE shot.

There are not many groups out there where members have the capability to call 300 other people around them their family—and mean it. You are pushed to be everything that you are capable of and more—no questions asked. When you miss a step off or play a wrong note, it doesn’t just reflect on you; it reflects on the band as a whole.

Since I was first exposed to music in elementary school by my mother, I have always held a fascination for the activity and all the rewards it may bring. Not once did I ever expect it to be what it has become … a resource, a friend and a passion.

The feeling of completeness that band has brought me is just one of the many reasons why I applied to become a drum major in the spring of my sophomore year. What I originally thought would be just a good experience turned out to be much more than I imagined.

Tragedy Strikes

On Oct. 12, 2013, tragedy struck our program at Bentonville (Ark.) High School. Two of our staff members left after our football game that Friday night to meet us in Tulsa for a competition the next morning. While we were on the buses that Saturday, I received a text from one of my fellow drum majors on the staff bus.

“Emily … they just started crying and told us to be quiet. What’s going on?”

“Who is ‘they’?” I asked.

“The staff …”

We arrived at Union High School in El Dorado, Ark., and immediately I knew something was wrong. The staff was intensely focused, and the band quickly caught on, along with a feeling of uneasiness. Then, one of my friends came up to me.

“Where is he?” he asked.

I immediately knew who “he” was.

“I do not know,” I answered.

We went through warm-ups and our preliminary show, and right after lunch we were lined up and asked to follow directors Brandon Hults and Scott Tomlinson to the school’s band room. It was eerily silent. The only sound was the air conditioning, along with the occasional nervous cough and sniffle here and there. That’s when they told us.

“I’m sure you all have noticed that something is wrong.”

Anxiety in the room grew.

“Early this morning, Mr. Roddy and Mr. Hilborn were in a car accident.”

Some people began to cry, and the band moms passed around tissue boxes. I grabbed my best friend’s hand, and she squeezed tight.

“Mr. Hilborn will be OK; he is currently being hospitalized with a few injuries … Mr. Roddy, however, did not make it.”

A Love of Love

There are so many things that can be said to describe Zachary Roddy … But as one of his closest friends told me, the truest one of all is “love.” He loved everything—band, strangers, sunsets and love.

Yes, he loved love. He knew exactly what to say and when to do things, and he never allowed anyone to be any less than his or her best. I can still hear his voice yelling from across the field at the trumpets to stay set.

When we earned second place at our first competition of that season, we were ecstatic (we just recently began competing). He, however, was genuinely upset that we did not place first.

In the few short months that we had him as a staff member, he managed to make everyone feel loved and welcome. He just had that aura about him that made you smile when all you wanted to do was cry. I’ve never met anyone who gives better hugs than he did. High-fives and hugs were just a way of life for him. Handshakes were simply overrated.

One time when I had fallen asleep on the bus ride home from a competition, my naturally curly hair was, well, fluffy. He was holding the door for me as I was going back to the bus for the second round of equipment, and he just laughed. My half open eyes rolled at him.

“What?!” I asked.

“Your hair … you look like … Diana Ross!” He laughed, and I couldn’t help but laugh too.

“I know—it’s bad. I am avoiding mirrors at all cost.”

Then followed his classic, cheesy smile.

An Unbroken Bond

That day at Union was one I will never forget. My first year as a junior drum major was definitely a difficult one, but it taught me so much about life, friendship and courage. The Union band and all the others at that competition were very compassionate and understanding of our situation, expressing their prayers and condolences throughout the day.

We did advance to finals, and it was up to us whether we performed that evening or not. Mr. Roddy would’ve been mad if we didn’t give it our all, so we did end up on the field that night. It was a very emotional experience, to say the least.

Rehearsal that next Monday was surreal. We had a job to do, and we knew that. As hard as it was to move on, we did—but we moved on together.

Up until last year, I would not have said that our program was a true family. The loss of Mr. Roddy, though, brought all of us together. It became a bond that has yet to be broken, and I doubt it ever will be.

Life is hard. And that’s why I am a part of something that prepares me for the challenges to come.

About the Author

Emily Corey is a drum major for the Bentonville (Ark.) Pride Marching Band. Emily’s primary instrument is oboe, and she has been a member of the school’s wind ensemble since her freshman year. She intends to perform throughout college while majoring in social work and minoring in psychology

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