Entering the winner’s circle

Entering the winner’s circle with the 1997 Marching Lions

I’ve written in previous posts about my ambitions as a band director. I was propelled into directing with the desire to return to the Bands of America (BOA) winner’s circle. My first high school directing job was at Lynchburg Christian Academy (LCA). We made our first BOA run in 1995 and it was a BIG learning experience.

The lead up to ’97

After our 1995 season I decided that we would return to BOA. They had a regional in Johnson City, Tennessee at East Tennessee State University (ETSU). ETSU held a special place in my heart. It was the site of the BOA Grand National Championships in the early ’80’s. When I was marching with Norwin, we won the National Championship on their unique, domed field.

We attended the 1996 Johnson City Regional and our overall placement was similar to our 1995 result at West Virginia University. We were dead last, but we did break the 50 point mark. The other highlight of 1996 was our performance slot. We performed in the last 3 bands. We were after Fort Mill HS from South Carolina and before Paul Laurence Dunbar from Kentucky. Both of those bands made finals.

I think that if I were to capture the 1996 band’s performance in one word, I would say, “Gall”. Gall can be defined as: outrageous insolence; effrontery. Why in the world would this little central Virginia band even consider trying to compete with these big, well established BOA bands.

I was proud of that band. They stood their ground and didn’t run back to Virginia with their tail between their legs… or did they?


A band parent approached me in the summer of 1997. They had a concern. Their child didn’t want to compete in BOA championships any more. They were embarrassed and thought that the experience was humiliating.

I was floored. My assumption was that everyone was on board with my dreams, but apparently that was not the case.

My faith in Jesus Christ is the focal point of my life, so I went to Him. Was I being selfish and unreasonable? Should I stop taking the band to BOA and focus on central Virginia shows that I knew we could dominate? Maybe I should change jobs, or move?

The plan

I wish I could tell you that I received some direct communication from God about what I should do. But, that isn’t what happened. During prayer I decided that 1997 would be a test year. If we came in dead last again and showed no signs of measurable success, I would stop this foolishness and I would not register with BOA in the future.

Typing those last words brings tears to my eyes and puts a lump in my throat.

We worked hard in preparation for the 97 Regional. Our drum major was physical and intense with the band. That being said, we always worked hard, so there wasn’t anything remarkably different about our preparation.


I’ve written in some detail about Brenda and I’s personal struggles in the 1997 journey so I won’t go into detail here. But, be aware that there was a significant personal dynamic going on behind the scenes that day.

This was our third year at a BOA regional and our second year at ETSU, so I don’t recall any drama during the band’s warm up and preparation for the performance. We once again performed in between two large bands that would place high on the day, but we stood our ground and did our best.

The 1997 LCA Marching band at ETSU


Awards ceremonies are terrible. You helplessly wait to hear results from random strangers who wouldn’t know you from Adam. Do they know what you have riding on these results or your personal journey? No, they do not!

I was sitting with my wife who had our young son in her arms. Our drum major’s Mom and overall great band Mom, Dr. Becky Carwile sat in front of me and I was praying, over and over. “God, please, please…”

BOA is stingy when it comes to awards. Local shows give out colorguard awards and drum major awards, etc. BOA has 3 caption awards: visual, music and general effect. If you don’t get any of those awards, you don’t win. Game over.

They began to announce the awards and I prayed. As they announced the awards I thought, “How cool would it be to hear, Best Music… Lynchburg Christian Academy!”. As I thought those words, my ears heard them at precisely the same moment!


I try to stay calm during awards ceremonies. I tell the kids to remember that today you may be #1 but next time you might not be. React to your victories in the manner that you would like your competitors to exhibit.

I didn’t do that.

I exploded and stood up screaming, “holy cow!” over and over. Dr. Carwile looked back at me and was smiling ear to ear. Random strangers were looking at me like I was nuts. I was a complete basket case. Tears were streaming down my face. You would have thought that we had just been crowned the best band in the world.

Now what?

We ended up winning all 3 of the caption awards and placed 1st in class A. We had managed to break to break the 60 point barrier. Our 1st place in class A earned us the right to perform in exhibition at finals and be a part of the finals awards ceremony. I had the honor of putting BOA medals around the necks of the band members that evening.

It wish I could end this post by saying that we became perennial BOA champions, but that was not the case. 1997 did pave an emotional pathway for our 1999 trip to BOA Grand Nationals in Indianapolis, Indiana. But, we would have some tough times ahead.

8 responses to “Entering the winner’s circle”

  1. Early Note (as I will be headed out the door in a few minutes) We were not last in 1996. There was some band from KY that did not break 50 and they were last. I think Jefferson Forest was also at the 1996 competition and did not do much better than us.

    • That is correct. I had forgotten that there were 31 bands in 1996 and we were 30th. Jefferson Forest HS was in 29th. We had a 51.4 and they had a 57.5. Altavista was also there that year and came in 26th with a 60.1.

      I like to think that we heavily influenced those two bands to attend that regional. If you take us out of the scenario, would they have attended BOA Johnson City?

      • JF and Heritage were attending these events with some regularity around the same time we were. You had director friends in the community so maybe you did influence them. I have no idea. I always found it interesting that we placed so closely to JF because there was a time before then that we would regularly lose to them (different classes) but also after this we would regularly out perform them in points.

  2. What is interesting to me is the fact that only one parent came to you to share a student’s doubts – specifically the concern that going to BOA could get embarrassing. If one family expresses doubt, and only one, the director must be demonstrating leadership that instills enough vision in the minds that the second-guessing is so limited. I had the pleasure of working for a visionary political strategist who had a really crazy idea about getting conservative activists to fight for renewable energy alongside oil/gas sources as a part of “all of the above.” He convinced 99% of the decision makers he interacted with and recruited that it could work, and turned a 15-employee venture into 100+ in less than a decade. He passed away a year ago, but the venture continues, as it looks to add 15 state chapters in the next couple of years. In order to capture the minds and grow a vision into success, the successful leader convinces the group (or the vast majority of the group) that the dream will become a reality. How they do it is a kind of alchemy. It’s been studied, sliced and diced, out into textbooks and reverse-engineered, but I still find it mysterious. Anyway, you did it, and I suppose charisma and “leading by example” are two parts of the alchemy. My friend Mark Pischea did it with quiet intensity and a God-given willingness to experiment. The thing I think both of you demonstrated was what Steve Jobs called “the square peg in the round hole”. It’s the willingness to defy conventional wisdom and break the mold that elevates the dream. When a teacher (or a band director) does it, students dream big about their futures, in ways they may not have before. I did.

  3. Holy Cow! Holy Cow! I remember this moment so well. And because I am who I am, I remember turning to Dottie Hubbard and saying, “were we the only class A band.” We laughed and someone else got upset and said something like, why do you have to be so negative? I wasn’t being negative – just maybe more realistic or cautious about the numbers and results. Remember, I was always your best numbers person! It didn’t matter how many class A bands were there, we were champions. We had come so far. I still have my medal (maybe I’ll post it on the Facebook thread)

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