BHS band practice pays off in 11 seasons of success

Published 6:00 am Monday, November 10, 2008

The Brookhaven High School Band is good – superior good.

Since 1998, the Panther band has been on an 11-year streak ofsuperiority, never failing once during that span to achieve a lessthan superior overall rating during more than 50 competitions inwhich hundreds of bands have been tested.

If a football team were on the same streak of domination as the105-member BHS band – turning in 11 perfect seasons – that teamwould be 165-0. Not even the nationally ranked South Panola highschool football team can make such a claim.

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To commemorate the decade-long success, the band’s seniors chippedin to purchase a $192 banner listing all the perfect years – withroom for the next – made by Brookhaven’s Select Signs. The decisionto buy the banner was made after the band capped its 11-year streakon Oct. 6 at the Pearl Invitational band competition.

Second-year Band Director Clay Whittington said the band’ssuperiority comes from only one source: not funding, not direction,but students.

“Some schools have it, some schools don’t,” he said. “You startwith good students -you just about can’t lose with great students,and that’s what we have at Brookhaven.”

Whittington didn’t start the streak at BHS – that honor goes toformer band director Zachary Harris, who is now in charge of themusic program at Gulfport High School on the coast – but he knowswhat it takes to keep the tradition alive.

A band can’t just sound good or look good – it has to projectsuperiority, Whittington said.

“The thing that can be nerve-racking about it is, it’s not like whowins a football game – it’s not like looking at a scoreboard,”Whittington said. “With band, it’s subjective. You have judgesthat, based on their opinion, decide what your rating is.”

To shape that opinion, it takes practice – long, hard, sweatypractice.

“You have to have the desire to win not just in competition, butyou have to have the will to prepare to win,” he said.

And practice isn’t just about music and footsteps. Whittington’sband lives and dies by discipline.

“I have high expectations, and I expect them to meet up to thoseexpectations,” he said. “Some people will say, ‘He’s a little tootough on the kids.’ But when I look back and think about it, I feellike that’s good for the kids. The more disciplined a band youhave, the better a band you have.”

Whittington’s tough approach is why the band is continuing itsstreak of superior ratings – 1’s in competition, as opposed to 2’s,3’s or 4’s.

A 2 is rated as “excellent,” while 3’s and 4’s are “good” and”fair,” respectively.

Or not…

“Either one of those are really bad,” Whittington said. “They havea 4, but the judges really reserve that for if they feel like itwould insult the bands that got a 3.”

Assistant Band Director Charles McLendon admitted that being amember of the BHS band is a demanding role. But when the demandsare met, results follow.

“We keep pushing them and pushing them, and we know what’re capableof,” he said. “We push them in the same direction of superioritythey’ve been used to. It’s all about them – they’re an awesomeband.”

The fundamentals of superiority begin in the eighth grade, whenmiddle schoolers come under the direction of 16-year veteranssistant director Gail Freeman.

“We try to instill in them personal pride and pride in theorganization, so they’ll be the very best they can be,” she said.”But it really has nothing to do with [the directors], it’s thegreat kids we’ve had. BHS has a long tradition of outstanding bandprograms for 30-40 years.”

None of the band’s members have ever known a 3 in competition. Forthat they are grateful – even if it means taking it from thetop.

“People see the BHS band coming and they say, ‘Aww … they’regoing to get superior,'” said drum major Kendra Jenkins, a17-year-old senior. “They expect it from us now – we have to workextra hard to maintain it. It’s worth it in the end, when they callout our ratings at competition. We know we worked hard for it, andwe deserve it.”

Eighteen-year-old senior trombonist Chris Coleman doesn’t mind theaches and pains that come with practice.

“Other bands don’t do as well as we do – it takes 100 percent inpractice and 100 percent every Friday night,” he said. “It feelspretty good.”

Ben Rowells, an 18-year-old senior saxophonist, doesn’t mind takinga beating in practice, either.

“That’s what it takes to be one of the best bands around,” he said.”Knowing you’re in one of the only all-superior bands in the stateis a pretty cool feeling.”