It was a lousy draw.
The Sylva-Webster Golden Eagle Marching Band had ripped through competition across the country in a series of competitions in June of 1979. On June 13 the band received a standing ovation at the Hayworth Invitational Tournament in Kokomo, Indiana. In that competition they received a score of 81.45 out of possible total of 100, beating the next-best band, which scored 79.00.
On Friday the 15th it was on to Whitewater, Wisconsin for preliminaries in the Marching Bands of America championship event. The event featured 37 bands from around the nation competing in two divisions, one for schools with less than 1,200 students enrolled and an “Open’’ Division for larger schools.
Scores in that competition were held until after the finals, with a leaderboard posting showing if a band had advanced. Despite performing in 40 m.p.h. winds, S-W made the cut to move on to Saturday’s finals. Its score was 89.10, followed by 88.25 by the Independence High School Band from San Jose, Calif., a high school with a student body of 5,000.
To back up a bit, Sylva-Webster’s football teams for much of the 1970s were something to behold, with state titles expected (and delivered). Games were big events, featuring overflow crowds cheering on teams that produced a host of All-Conference, All-State and All-America players.
But halftime didn’t give anyone a chance to catch their breath. In fact, it’s a wonder half the crowd didn’t routinely asphyxiate as fans exhausted by two quarters of football remained glued in their seats as band director Bob Buckner’s charges delivered performances marked by precision, emotion and inspiration.
Back to Wisconsin: On Saturday the finalist band directors met and held a draw for position in the upcoming championship event.
Buckner drew position number one.
That was bad.
Bad to the point he immediately started getting condolences from other directors.
“It is a kind of understood omen,” said Buckner, “that in drawing position number one, winning is usually impossible.” The draw dispirited the band members as well, but they marched out before 11,000 spectators and laid it on the line.
With something of a chip on their shoulder, the 130-member strong group put on a show Buckner described as “electrifying … yet the kids executed the show in a very relaxed manner.”
When the finals were over Sylva-Webster had made history. Sylva-Webster was First Place Winner Class A Division Grand National Champions and also won Best General Effect, Best Marching Maneuvering and Best Music Execution. Four of the seven judges on the scoring panel had S-W in first place. Their score was 89.45 for S-W out of a possible 100, with the next closest score 87.15 by the Flushing, Mich., band, an Open Class winner.
It’s an achievement still well worth celebrating 40 years later.
And it was well-earned.
Certainly not the luck of the draw.