Starting out at BOA

Starting out at BOA with LCA in 1995

I was driven into band directing with a big dream. I wanted to be in the winner’s circle at Bands of America (BOA) competions. My experience at Norwin in 1982 had molded my character and I was determined to become a band director and pass on these experiences. That dream propelled me through college and into band directing as a profession.

Getting started

In 1995 I was starting my 6th year at Lynchburg Christian Academy (LCA). It was my 8th year of directing. I’ve written about my first two years here. I had married a fantastic woman in 1993 and we hadn’t started having kids yet. The timing was right to take the plunge into the deep end of BOA.

Competing at BOA isn’t something you have to qualify for. Basically, you fill out the paperwork and send in your money. If there is a spot available, you’re in! I looked at the paperwork that BOA had sent and decided that their Morgantown, West Virginia event was close enough and I sent in our registration.

Getting everyone onboard

We didn’t have YouTube so there wasn’t an easy way to let the band know what we were getting into. Our band’s biggest show of the year was at James Madison University’s (JMU) Parade of Champions. There were good bands there, but they were mostly from Virginia.

This is a good place for a side note. My high school director, L J Hancock was a very straightforward guy. He shot from the hip. We were talking at one point and he said, “There are no good bands in Virginia.”. There was no emotion in his voice. To him, that was a fact. I named a few groups, which he quickly dismissed by saying that none of them went to BOA. i.e. If they were good, they’d come to a BOA show.

So, according to L J, the only band that we had seen of any quality at all was Fort Mill from South Carolina. They came to the Lynchburg Classic a few times and they were a solid group, for sure.

This meant that the kids, parents and administration didn’t know what we were getting into. I was the only one who was even close. And, looking back, I had no idea either.

Late entry = early performance

I received confirmation from BOA that we had a slot in their Morgantown Regional. We would perform at 8:15…. AM! Ugh. But, I didn’t care. We were going to BOA!

Performing at your peak level at 8 o’clock in the morning is like racing a Lamborghini on an empty tank of gas. You know the power is there, but there’s no energy coming from the fuel tank. This wasn’t the first time the band had to play this early, but it’s not like the experience had made us any better at it.

Show time!

The morning of the show we loaded up the buses. Everyone is in their uniforms and I’m wearing a suit and tie. Warm up is probably around 7 am which means we’re in the buses around 6 am. We bus over but can’t find the stadium.

I feel like almost every one of my posts have a variation of the following comment… “It was 1995, we didn’t have” Google Maps. We had to follow written directions, or have a paper map. In our case, we lucked out. We had a parent who used to live in the area. After making a series of wrong turns, he flagged us down, jumped on the bus and got us to the stadium.

First disaster avoided. Several more lie ahead.

Instrument problems

As a director, you have to rely on the kids, staff and parents. You can’t do it all on your own. My memory is a bit foggy here, but I think we forgot an instrument and had to borrow something. I have partially blocked this horrific experience from my mind. I do know that we found some sort of solution.

Then, while warming up, our baritone saxophone player fell and bent the neck of the saxophone. We had no tuba. The baritone saxophone was our only bass instrument. Again, a bit fuzzy (remember this is 7 am!), but I believe I bent it back into shape.


Warm up is over and it is time to head to the largest stadium we have ever played in. And it is the most significant competition we’ve ever experienced.

On the way to the stadium, one of our students had something like the dry heaves. As I watched her retching into a trash can I thought, “Are we going to be able to hold it together long enough to perform?”.

Our nerves didn’t get any better as we went down the hill to the staging area. The large stadium we were looking at was actually much larger than we thought. Half of the stadium was dug out into the ground. So, there was a lower part that we hadn’t seen.

When we finally got to the entrance gate we were looking at an enormous stadium.


Before I continue, I think it is important to say that we were not the first band performing. There was a band before us from Liverpool, New York. BOA had 30 bands in the Morgantown show and Liverpool placed 5th on the day. So, they were good.

They were our neighbors during warm ups and they sounded fantastic! They were playing stuff that we could only dream of playing and they had a ton of energy. We were all starstruck. It was irritating. We are here to be serious performers and we can’t take our eyes and ears off of the group going on before us.

The truth was, I couldn’t blame anyone, they were great.


Once the band was on the field. They came through like champs. I had no sense of them being nervous at all. I was proud enough to pop a few buttons off of my shirt. Looking back, I’m still proud of them.

LCA 1995, Morgantown Regional performance


Waiting is the worst part of performing early. It wouldn’t be so bad if I weren’t such a marching band zealot. Most folks would perform and then take the band somewhere fun and let them unwind. Not me. We were going to watch all of these bands. All 30, if possible.

Ok, that’s not so bad, right? Well, BOA is a prelim – finals competition. We didn’t make finals. Most directors would take their band somewhere and unwind if they didn’t make finals. Not me, we were going to stay and watch 10 of those bands play again! Why? Because we needed to learn what they were doing so that we could become better! Don’t ask stupid questions!!

Numbers, results

I already said that we didn’t make finals. But, I was hoping that we had compared well with other groups at the show. BOA makes you wait until after the finals awards ceremony to get your numbers from prelims. So, that means many hours of nail biting.

Finals awards ceremony ended with my alma mater Norwin losing to Kiski. I was disappointed. But, honestly I just wanted to see what our number was.

I sent my exhausted band to the buses and made my way to the sidelines to get the recap sheets. When I looked at the sheets, my heart sunk into my shoes. We were last on the day. It wasn’t even close. We hadn’t broken 50.

Breaking the news

The walk back to the bus was a lifetime. I moved as slow as I could without making it obvious that I was delaying the inevitable. What would the kids say? Would the parents move to have me fired? Why did I do this? I should have stayed in central Virginia with small market competitions.

Please allow me one more digression. In order to go to BOA, you must have your administrator’s signature. When I brought the paperwork to my principal, he was hesitant to sign. He was concerned that we might embarrass ourselves and the school. I had assured him that we would be fine.

But, did we embarrass ourselves? Would the students be humiliated when I tell them our scores?


I needed to face the music. I boarded the charter bus, told the driver, “let’s go.” and sat down. This was my last ditch maneuver. I wouldn’t tell anyone the scores. The kids were tired, we’d go home and never speak of this again.

That was not going to happen. Almost immediately the band began calling out for a recap. Our habit was to recap the score sheets after shows. I felt it was important to explain the numbers and tell the band what I felt the numbers meant. They wanted and deserved that recap!

I stood, turned around and gave them the news that I felt would end my tenure at LCA and possibly my career. We were last and had a score under 50. What happened next was one of the most significant events in my professional life.

A voice from the back of the bus called out, “Are we coming back next year?”. I was thunderstruck. What?! I fumbled for a reply, “Do you want to come back?”. A chorus of voices called out, “YES”! I don’t remember much about what happened next, but I had tears in my eyes then and I have tears in my eyes now as I write this.

The students had fallen in love with the bands that they’d seen. Their eyes were opened and their minds expanded to what could be accomplished in the marching arts.


Here’s some takeaways from this experience:

#1 It’s great to go for the win, but what happens when you fall short? This band wasn’t even close to winning any trophies that day, but they did have a big win. They had their minds expanded as to the possibilities in their craft. We could have gone to a local show and won our class. That would have given us a few trophies, but we would have lost a transformative experience.

#2 Don’t hide when you fall short. I’ve seen directors over the years make all kinds of excuses for falling short. You notice how I say, “Falling short”? You don’t have to say that you lost, but you need to admit when things didn’t go your way. Don’t blame the judges, or your performance order. Own it and you can grow from it.

#3 Better days are coming if you remain diligent. Two years after this experience, I was hanging medals around the necks of some of these kids at the BOA Johnson City Regional!

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