Parent volunteers behind the scenes of M-S marching band


Marching bands — obviously — have moving pieces as they produce their sounds of music.

It’s clear to those in the bleachers as the group weaves and works its way through sometimes intricate movements while playing their instruments.

For Mahomet-Seymour’s group, that means 213 students this fall doing their thing not only to create a harmonious sound to the ear, but also one that is an eye-catching performance for the watchful onlookers.

Like other activities and clubs at M-S, the marching band has a strong parent support group.

Those dedicated men and women do more than cheer for their children from the sidelines on the days of competition.

Though they try to stay behind the scenes, some are more visible than others and some active more days than others.

It’s not a tiny operation.

“Probably around 60 parents are needed to make the marching band work,” M-S director of bands Michael Stevens said. “Some time commitments are limited to performance days, and others are ongoing for the entire marching band season.”

Not all of the help is needed when the band is marching or preparing.

“All of the volunteer work isn’t limited to when the students are practicing or performing,” veteran volunteer Mark Webb said. “A lot of volunteers take their work home with them.

“Folks doing uniforms and props in particular put in a lot of unseen hours.”

The help of the parents is not only beneficial, but essential.

“Honestly, I’m not sure how the band would run without the help of these parents,” said Jennifer Bartlett, the Music Boosters president. “Our directors, Michael Stevens and Phil Meyer, are in charge of teaching over 200 band students new and difficult music and complicated choreography to go with it.

“When we go to competitions and see other bands of our size, they can have upwards of 10-15 band instructors. So the way our parents help that situation is to take over the jobs that Mr. Stevens and Mr. Meyer just don’t have time to do (such as uniforms, snacks, props, moving instruments, etc.). While the directors are always kept in the loop about what’s going on with each area of the marching band, this is a way we, as parents, can help out.”

Stevens knows better than to take this assistance for granted.

“Parents want a quality experience for their children and know that Phil and I cannot do all the necessary requirements by ourselves to put on a top-notch field show performance,” Stevens said. “We simply couldn’t do the activity without parent involvement.”

The band has taken the field at home football games and also participated in last week’s Homecoming parade.

The first competition of the season will be on Saturday at Bartonville Limestone.

Some parents first take the time to get introduced to and immersed in what takes place behind the scenes.

Nichole Jessup was one who didn’t jump right in when her first child reached high school.

“When my oldest was a freshman, I was an observer of what went on during the marching band season,” Jessup said. “I did attend the Music Booster meetings and came to rehearsals to watch the band.”

She soon became much more involved.

“Starting her sophomore year, I became active with the uniforms,” Jessup said. “Since I was a teacher and have my summers off, I helped during band camp when all the uniforms are fitted.

“I learned what needed to be done by just jumping in and helping with what was needed to be done.

“As a teacher in the junior high, I knew many of the students,” Jessup added. “This was very beneficial for the freshmen. I know that they are nervous about being in high school. Maybe seeing a familiar face may ease their nerves.”

Jessup found her niche with the uniforms, even though it is a tedious and time-consuming commitment.

“I have been working with the uniforms for the past six years,” she said. “This year the marching band will be wearing medical scrubs for their show. Several of us uniform moms have worked on ideas to alter the scrubs for a quick change in the show.

“We have been to almost every after-school rehearsal altering the pants to fit each member of the band.”

Like Jessup learned, experience is not needed to become a part of the band’s Parent Booster Group.

“No knowledge needed, just the willingness to help,” said Stevens, who has been the M-S band director for 26 years. “Experienced parents train the new parents on how the process works.”

Jessup said there’s no shortage of areas when parents can offer assistance.

Among those are:

Uniforms — fitting, washing, pressing and cleaning the shoes;

Parades — helping with water, etc.;

Pit — helping with the instruments (rolling them in and out during the performances or rehearsals);

Props — creating, building, placing on field for performances, loading and unloading trailers;

Snacks — during band camp, parents donate food and help distribute it to the students during breaks;

Band camp meal — parents organize the menu and what donations are needed to feed the band on its last day of band camp;

Pictures/buttons — parents take pictures of individuals, sections, seniors, and the entire band. They also make buttons for the families;

Paw prints — parents spray paint the band paw prints on driveways for families that sign up;

Show shirts — parents design, order and deliver shirts, sweatshirts;

Chaperones — parents sign up to chaperone for the Allerton Retreat (an overnight event in September where the band learns the end of its field show), bus chaperones for the competitions;

Towing trailers — to competitions and for the Allerton Retreat;

Fundraising — through the Scrip program, help with the cost for the bowl trips, donations for projects and materials;

DVD — parents contribute pictures and videos to be compiled into one video for the band;

Senior Night — volunteers organize cookies and drinks to recognize the seniors;

Sound — volunteers help with microphones for soloist, speakers, etc.;

Home football games — set up of the props, pit instruments, drum major stands, water.

“We’ve even had a parent nurse who helped out with injuries,” Webb said.

Bartlett said the wide assortment of jobs lends itself to attracting volunteers with varying amounts of time.

“We are well aware of how many directions parents are pulled in these days, so we try to provide volunteer opportunities that could work for anyone,” Bartlett said. “Some jobs are more complex and take more time and some are shorter, quicker ways to help.

“Parents can be as involved as they are able to be. There is not a mandatory volunteer commitment, and yet we always have help when we need it.”

For his part, Webb has devoted time to the same basic endeavor for the last six years.

“I put together videos for the band and that takes over 200 hours total throughout the season,” he said. “About 50 hours just shooting footage, then about another 150 hours editing and burning discs.

“But nobody ever has just one single job. I’ve helped build props, handed out water bottles, chaperoned on trips and so on.”

Parents don’t see their roles as something their children view negatively.

“I’m not sure about how other students feel about their parents helping,” Bartlett said, “but when I asked my boys (senior twins who are both four-year marching band members), they said they liked that I was involved.

“I think most kids realize that the fun things, like snacks and food, are a direct result of parent involvement.”

For many of the teenagers, it’s a way of life.

“Most students seem indifferent to having their parents involved,” Webb said. “I suspect most of us have been to enough school events that they no longer care.”

Stevens said, from his perspective, “it depends on what the job is. Sometimes they don’t care for their parent being a chaperone.”

Jessup said it is difficult to pinpoint a universal reason why so many band parents volunteer their time and service.

“This seems to be a question that many have asked when it comes to the amount of volunteers for the marching band,” Jessup said. “I am unsure what is the true magical reason why we have such a great turnout when requests are made for help.

“Possibilities could be that all students participate compared to sports where not all athletes play in every game. Another one could be that parents were once in marching band and know what it takes to have a competitive, successful show.

“I have always believed that we have amazing parents in Mahomet-Seymour. They always want the best for their students, and they will give their time to make whatever is needed to ensure success for their kids.”

There is room for both the volunteers who plan ahead and the ones who are spontaneous.

“A lot of the time, parents just show up at things and see what they can do to help,” said Webb, whose day job is as a software developer for Pearson Education.

Bartlett appreciates the parents who help for multiple years, but is also overjoyed when newcomers join.

“Since a lot of families have multiple children come through the marching band, seasoned parents are invaluable when it comes to how to run different aspects of volunteering,” Bartlett said.

“However, the newer parents are typically excited and have a lot of energy and that is a wonderful resource as well. We have some brand new parents this year that have stepped up to fill leadership roles and are doing a wonderful job.”

The Marching Band is only one part of the focus for the Music Boosters.

“Music Boosters also encompasses our outstanding choir programs and jazz band, and those parents are fabulous as well,” Bartlett said. “I want to make sure that people don’t think music boosters is just about band.

“This time of year is always more about marching band, but the big choral events (such as Madrigal dinners) happen later in the year.”

Jessup can see herself continuing to help in the future.

“I will be tempted to continue my time volunteering with the marching band when my nieces and nephews get to high school,” she said.

The M-S Marching Band recently learned it has been selected to play at the 2020 Fiesta Bowl.

For the past 36 years, the Fiesta Bowl has been played between Dec 30 and Jan. 5. The game’s current location is Glendale, Ariz.

M-S last played at the Fiesta Bowl in 2015.

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