- April 2, 2020
When a high-school marching band takes the field at halftime, fans get to enjoy a high-energy performance — the fruit of the band’s labor.
What isn’t visible is the time, money, coordination and hard work it takes to go from practice to performance.
Most high-school bands also have the advantage of tradition on their side. But because Windermere High School opens its doors to students for just the second year, the Wolverine band is putting in overtime to continue building their brand.
Band Director Rob Darragh — who also plays in the Florida National Guard 13th Army Band in Miami — knew the task he had taken on of building a new program from the ground up was going to be a challenge, but it still didn’t prepare him when he walked into a bare band room last summer.
“We walked into an empty band room with no instruments, stands or chairs,” Darragh said. “We had to sit on the floor our first meeting, and we had nothing whatsoever. The first week of band camp, (we had) nothing. (The students) were standing there with their hands up like they had an instrument. Our second week we borrowed some tubas and things like that from UCF. Finally we had instruments, then the rest. Nothing came all at once — even the middle of the year and toward April, they were still getting instruments.
“To get people excited about the band … was very difficult,” he said. “Once things took off, I did a pretty good job of trying to energize them as much as I could.”
The hurricanes that fall added to the challenge, and Darragh said the band didn’t get its whole show on the field until a week or two before states.
“It was rough all around, slow going, but everyone rallied at the end and plowed through it, and we went to contest this year, our first year out,” he said. “This year, everything’s been so much better.”
They now have instruments, uniforms, some music and equipment, but it still doesn’t negate the program’s need for time and support to get to the caliber its members hope to be at.
“Traditions take time to build, so that definitely is a challenge, because a lot of bands have them,” Darragh said. “We’re just kind of feeling it out. We’re trying to build the band like we want it but a lot of that is student-driven.”
Jessica Kendall is the parent of a junior in the band and knew she was going to be involved in the program her daughter is so passionate about.
“Last year as parents we were so anxious to get started — waiting for the band director to arrive, waiting for the instruments and uniforms to arrive and everything was such a sense of anticipation,” Kendall said. “There were a lot of areas where parents were needed to step in because it was such a monumental task. We’re here first and foremost for the kids — to make sure they have a great experience, to make sure they have a chance to shine on the stage, on the field, in the performance hall, and that they have the tools they need to do the very best job and represent our community.”
Going into its second year the band is more at ease and better prepared than in its inaugural year, but the legwork is far from complete. And with about 170 members thus far, coordinating and prioritizing the band’s needs is no easy task.
“We started with nothing, no money,” Darragh said. “Everything we were doing was fundraised, and they pay a fee to be in marching band. That fee is not enough but helps us at least break even somewhat.”
For high-school bands, fundraising is key, and Darragh aims to continue getting his band’s name out in the community. He equates it to giving student-athletes the funds and tools they need to be successful at their sports. For band — especially one that will require transportation for both home and away games — there are buses, instruments, music and more. He added that a band could easily have a $100,000 operating budget for marching season, competitions and school representation. Each member pays $400 in fees and must raise the rest of the money.
“We are the largest sport on campus,” he said. “We have the most moving parts, and we’re the largest team to manage, and I don’t think that many people think about it that way.”
Kendall added that the band also wants to give back to the community.
“The kids perform, and they like to be heard,” Kendall said. “We would love for people to come out to the football games. … We’re really excited to take the field on our home turf and show people what we have. We want to give back — we know that for some people in our community this was a big compromise to let us build the school here.”
With its stadium ready to go this football season, the band is looking forward to getting a boost from selling concessions. It also hopes to get corporate sponsors.
“We’re so very happy to be here, but (we also want) to ask if someone has it within their means and their hearts to help us just a little bit more in any of these ways,” Kendall said. “Whether it’s getting a discount card, coming to the mattress sale, going to a spirit night, any way that they can help we really appreciate it, and it means the world to these kids.”