My first competition as a marching band director

The 1990 Lynchburg Christian Academy Marching Band at the JMU Parade of Champions. My first competition as a band director was with this band.

My first competition as a marching band director was in 1990. I was 25 years old and excited to have my first job as a high school director at Lynchburg Christian Academy (LCA). The band was small, but I wanted to put the marching band into competition as soon as possible.

I said we were small. But, if you look at the photo you’ll see the band. We had a nice group of flutes, saxophones and clarinets, but our brass section consisted of one trumpet and one marching baritone. So, small is an accurate observation. If you look at the right side of the second row, you’ll see a child in a necktie. That child was me, their director. I was filled with piss and vinegar and ready to take on the world! And, I believed that we had all of the students that we would need to effectively enter into competition.

Bedford County Invitational

My first competition as a marching band director was at Jefferson Forest High School. A long-time friend was their director and he had started a competition the year before called the Bedford County Invitational (BCI). BCI was a short bus ride, so starting the season there made sense. We packed up what one of our band parents liked to affectionately call, “our little flute band” and headed across town.

We arrived early (as all small bands do). The parking lot was like a ghost-town. Big bands and big audiences arrive later. We were the opening act. I was dressed in a white shirt, necktie, dress slacks and dress shoes. I wanted to feel and look like I knew what I was doing.

Warm ups took place on the baseball field located on the other side of the school. Once we set up, the rains came and dumped water on us by the buckets full. (Remember, I’m in dress clothes, trying to look professional!). We took shelter in the baseball dugout and waited for a break in the weather. I think my greatest fear was that they would cancel the show. I wanted to compete!

Socks – and being prepared

While we waited out the storm I noticed that our snare drummer had white socks on. He was our only snare drummer and was a great guy who worked hard to play his part well. But, he wasn’t the most organized guy. Let’s backtrack a bit.

I’ve said that I was young and intended to take the world by storm. If you are in your first competition as a marching band director you have to look great so people take notice. Our uniform had various parts and I expected everything to look perfect (the same). That included black socks. I had been as clear as crystal, no black socks would mean no performing.

How were we supposed to keep the music together without a snare drummer? I knew it could be catastrophic, but I didn’t care. A point needed to be made. He wasn’t going to perform. So, as we waited out the rain, I fumed.

Eventually the clouds parted and the rain stopped. We climbed out of the dugout and began getting ready. I could feel the band pleading with me to allow our drummer to perform, but I wouldn’t budge. I was prepared to die on that black sock hill!

Band mom to the rescue

Band is impossible without great band moms. Dads are important too, but I think that the foundation starts with moms. They’re there with water or crackers or hair spray or…. socks.

Our warm ups were coming to a close when I noticed a stirring amongst the band members. I looked over and noticed that our drummer was talking to someone at the fence. It was his mother and she had brought him black socks. This would be my first experience of, “Band Mom to the rescue!” but it would certainly not be my last.

Time to perform

Our dummer had his black socks which meant we had our snare drummer. We made the long walk to the stadium and then down a steep bank to the field. I think I willed the band through that performance. I wanted it to be perfect and the students did a great job.

Our only competition in class A that day was William Campbell High School. We saw this band pretty much every year and I grew to respect them. Their director, Dale Hedrick, put together very precise programs and the kids would execute them at a high level. Dale would become one of my first band director friends. In 2012 he passed away and we lost a high quality band director, and the world lost a great man.


One of the worst parts of being a class A band director is the waiting. You always go on early and then wait. I was the product of large bands. We bussed in, warmed up, performed, got our awards and went home. We didn’t even get out of our uniforms until after the awards ceremony. That is not the experience of a small band.

There is so much time to kill. Class 2A, then 3A, 4A…. sometimes 5A, not to mention lunch and dinner breaks. We started the day soaked to the bone, but then the sun came out. There is no cover in a high school football stadium, you just fry like an egg in a frying pan. Remember, I’m in a necktie, dress slacks, etc. I would have killed for a pair of dry socks.

By the time we got to the awards ceremony, we had been drowned and then broiled and roasted. We looked and felt like crap. As the awards ceremony approached my only consolation was that Dale looked as bad as I did.


In the 1990’s we used to stand on the field with the band leaders during awards. I paced behind our drum majors and colorguard captain with my hands firmly clasped behind my back. I hummed a praise hymn called, “Humble thyself in the sight of the Lord” and prayed/sang the words:

Humble Thyself in the sight of the Lord
Humble Thyself in the sight of the Lord
And He shall lift you up
Higher and Higher And He shall lift you up

We won quite a few awards that day, including first place in class A. I was elated. I think that I pushed extremely hard going into that show, because I saw it as a referendum on my ability to direct a winning marching show. It was like a test of whether I should be a director, or not. So, the first place in class A meant a lot to me. And, it meant a lot to the students.

Things I learned in 1990

My first competition as a marching band director and the subsequent years was a learning experience. We did well that year and I BEGAN to learn how to be a quality director. Here are just a few things I started to learn.

The old saying is true. “What counts is not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.” We were tenacious. I still take this mentality with every band I work with. I like to say to the students, “No one will outwork us!”. You can’t do anything about talent, but you can choose how hard you work.

Clean beats fancy every day of the week. We worked hard to make our performances clean. I learned later that the “experts” say, clean is effective. That means that a clean performance will score high in the overall effect captions on a judge’s sheet. You don’t get credit for doing difficult things if you look sloppy.

Lastly, the students will work hard for you if they like you. If they love you, they’ll run into a burning building at your request. I stumbled into this in 1990. I was just working hard, but we ended up loving each other.

I spent 10 years at LCA. Our final performance together was in 1999 at the BOA Grand Nationals in Indianapolis, Indiana. I believe that our many positive years together all flowered from seeds that were planted in that first competition in 1990.

Below is our performance of the 1990 LCA Band at the James Madison University Parade of Champions. You can read some of my reflections on being a small band director here.

1990 Parade of Champions

3 responses to “My first competition as a marching band director”

  1. Loved our years with you, Eric, as Carrie and Josh played under your wonderful leadership! Carrie’s sons have continued the Marching Band tradition in their high school. – Cathy Rountrey

  2. […] 1999 marked my 10th year as the band director at Lynchburg Christian Academy (LCA). I had gone from my first competition as a director in year one to Bands of America (BOA) Grand Nationals in year ten. Why would I […]

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