Another marching band season has ended. My eleventh. My next-to-last as a band parent. Not my last as a band fan, but I only have one more year to fully live the band parent experience.

My oldest daughter wasn’t in marching band. She played flute in junior high, and although we went to high school football games during her junior high years, we didn’t understand this marching band thing. If we had, we might have pushed her more to be part of it. Her junior year of high school was my first year of teaching, and our band won the Texas state marching band contest. I taught band kids, but I didn’t understand what a big deal that was.

Second daughter was a French horn player. Beautiful instrument, beautiful sound. What do you mean you can’t play it in marching band? A mellophone? Never heard of it. So she starts August three-a-days for marching band as she gets ready to begin high school her sophomore year (while going through chemotherapy no less). The first football games come along, and the band performs beautiful, complex music, not a “popular” song in the entire show. And the marching! I can’t begin to keep up with where she is on the field, there are near collisions, running and playing at the same time! This isn’t like anything I’ve ever seen before.

October comes, and the band is scheduled to perform in a marching band contest run by some group called Bands of America. It was in Houston, so we put her on the bus and said have fun. We’ll pick you up when you guys get back to school. Then, it’s “Oh, you guys won. That’s nice.”

A couple of weeks later, it’s another BOA contest, but this time in Arlington. Kerry goes, and I deal with house stuff, soccer, and the other routines of an October Saturday. She calls late in the afternoon, after we win the preliminaries, and tells me I HAVE to come see this band contest thing. I guess I left the 18 year old in charge and found the contest, saw a couple of bands, watched our band, and thought “OK, now what?” then I saw my first BOA retreat. Twelve bands stream onto the field, a hundred yards of high school bands, in different uniforms, beautiful and exotic color guards in front, standing at attention. Breath-taking!

They start the announcements: in tenth place, with a score of something, the so and so band! Everyone cheers, and the remaining bands and their parents hold their breath. They announce awards – best music, best visual, best general effect – who knows what that means. Then they finally get to second place, and you’re the only band whose name hasn’t yet been called! The tension that’s been building for twenty minutes bursts, and the excitement erupts! The band does an encore, we leave the field about 11:30 at night, and I’m hooked. Later that year the band is going to Indianapolis for its first ever appearance in BOA Grand Nationals. Kerry debates whether to go, and at the last minute gets a ride and follows the band to Indiana. We’re new to the national stage, so there’s no way we’ll do much. But at Grand Nationals, we win best music and finish fourth in our first trip to Indianapolis. Wow!

The shows are a blur. I remember formations, movements, guard uniforms, changing band uniforms, white shakos, black shakos (hats to you civilians), white pants, white uniforms, rivals like Reagan, Churchill, Duncanville, Carmel, Avon, Broken Arrow, Marcus, the shows of our rivals, the endless comparisons and preferences. I remember snippets of music, from our shows and the shows of others. I learned the meaning of the judging terms, the differences between UIL and BOA, the subtleties and styles of different band directors, what DCI means. I’ve had a French horn/mellophone playing daughter who was a drum major, a bass drum playing son who was a drumline captain, and now I watch with pride a trumpet playing son who I can pick out of 200 marchers by his phenomenal posture and perfect marching form. I’ve awakened early, stayed up late, and I’ve been amazed at how much these band kids learn, how quickly they learn it, and how hard they work. If you don’t think discipline can be learned, just have a band kid.

I’ve been to Indianapolis, San Antonio, Waco and Arlington to watch dozens of bands perform. I’ve given hundreds of standing ovations, eaten stadium nachos and hot dogs, sat on a sidewalk for an hour to get perfect seats, refused to suck caramel apple lollipops, watched kids exult and cry, and so many more memories that I can’t even begin to list. We read the forums, pore over the score recaps, talking our own language of dirty drill, music general effect, and doing math in our heads to see who won and why. I’ve been to contests where we didn’t think we could win and we won, contests where we thought we were unbeatable and we weren’t, contests where we thought we would win and we did. Contests where we thought we got a break and contests where we thought we were robbed.

During the three year break between kids in band, we went to at least one contest every year, telling ourselves it was so Wiley would stay interested and excited for when it was his turn in high school. That’s our story and we’re sticking to it. We just won a big contest, the final contest of the year, and one we weren’t sure we could win. It was one of the more exciting contests ever for us. We stayed up for the encore, went back to the hotel, read the Internet forums to see what people were saying, then got up early for the four hour drive home, Wiley never taking his medal off. His big brother almost popped a button with pride and wore his high school band letter jacket all over San Antonio so people would see it, and that was so sweet that it goes into the memory bank forever. The music has kept running through my head all day. What a year. As Kerry and Brian both said, we only wish we could watch the show a few more times.

Next year Wiley will be a senior, our last year for the full experience of morning rehearsals, marchathons, pizza feasts, booster club meetings, and contests. I don’t know what the show will be, but I know that it will be amazing, and by the end of the year I will be convinced of the superiority of our show. It will be a state championship year, but probably not a Grand Nationals year. I wish it started tomorrow. We already talk about which contests we want to go to even after we “graduate.” I can say it’s because I teach so many of them but that’s just an excuse.

I’m a band parent. More than that, I’m an L.D. Bell band parent. Eyes full of pride. Hustle.