Bearcats Band: More than just the music

Bill Hancock
Runnels County Register
The Ballinger Bearcats Band performs at the UIL Area Competition.

Janet Wilson has been the director of the Ballinger High School band for 18 years. It's safe to say that Wilson, like every other educator in the country, has had to find ways to adjust and keep things moving forward during the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even with those monumental challenges, the Bearcats' band received three Division-1 ratings at the Regional marching band competition. The bands are rated on a scale of 1-5, with 1 being the highest mark. The ratings qualified the band to compete at Area competition, where they qualified for the finals, ultimately finishing a respectable 6th.

The work of the 70-student band is even more remarkable when you consider that they had much less preparation time this year, "We usually start marching in July. This year we couldn't start until September 7th," Wilson points out. Wilson says that time time limit for a performance is 4 minutes, 30 seconds, but Ballinger went in with full gusto, "Our performance was 6 minutes and 45 seconds. I wanted to prep an entire show and come back in next year, when we can qualify for state, and have this experience to build on. We've been fortunate and got to do the entire show. It was important for our freshmen to have that experience this year."

Ballinger Bearcats Band Drum Majors: Graycen Dennis, Elijah Sanchez and Emma Cullen, hold awards that the band won this year.

Wilson spoke to the rigorousness of the band competitions and the great deal of practice required to be competitive, "Every single student had to pass their music memory to perform and play on the field. You get confidence knowing that you can play a 6.5 minute show with marching movements."

To say that the band put in some hard work and did great would be minimizing their efforts and a disservice to all that the band is, and embraces. The adjustments to the current rules regarding social distancing and such are enforced at the school. Ballinger ISD has been proactive in working to avoid, or at worst, contain, any virus outbreak. This was apparent during the school year when the band played by the field house at Bearcats Stadium, rather than in the stands as they've always done. They've had to make adjustments constantly.

November 18 was the first day of indoor rehearsal, which couldn't be held in the band hall due to the fact that the students wouldn't be able to maintain the minimum allowed social distance. Wilson found a solution, "We started rehearsing in the auditorium. I have a really good relationship with Mr. Scott (Theater Arts teacher) so we can share the space in the auditorium. It's recommended for the students to stay 6'-10' apart. It's really hard to do the 10' spacing, but we can do the 6' spacing easily."

The Ballinger High School band had to start rehearsing in the Dale and Ida Lee Ellis Auditorium at the high school due to social distancing brought on by COVID-19.

Wilson said that the administration has supported the band and understands the challenges all of teachers face this year, "I feel fortunate that we have a proactive administration that is staying ahead of the curve when it comes to dealing with COVID. If they know that there is a way to make something happen, they're going to do everything in their power to make it happen. I really have no doubts about the support the administration gives us. It's a great relationship and I've never felt that we didn't have their full support. "

It's apparent that the seniors play a special role in the band, embracing the challenges this year, "I've been very impressed with the seniors. They could have been like, 'Well, our season is blown.' But, they haven't had that attitude. They've remained positive. Each of them has a caring attitude. If someone is out because of quarantine, the band members get excited when the student returns and there is a lot of love. Today, when we played for the first time in the auditorium, I cut the band off after the first measure and told them, 'That's beautiful.' The entire band has been great."

Many of the band students also participate in other activities. During halftime at football games you'd see football players marching in their uniform at halftime, "We have several kids who participate in other activities and multitask. I'm always impressed w/kids that are in other activities such as athletics, Ag, cheer and others." Wilson believes that being a member of the band has given the students an escape from the realities of the COVID-19 virus, "I think that when they're playing at a game or a pep rally or Spirit Fest, that they enjoy being part of something away from COVID. They really get into it and have a great time."

This was the first time in several years that the band didn't have "Fun Friday at the Wilsons." Fun Friday is a band party hosted by the Wilson and her husband at their home. This year COVID has prevented the bonding event from happening, "We've been hosting that for 14 years. We host it when the football team has their Bye week. The first year that we hosted it, there were 30 kids in the band. Last year there were 65 students in band. We get together, eat, play games and have fun. I never realized how important that aspect of it all is with everyone being together and having fun."

The Bearcat band is a microcosm of the resiliency people throughout the area have shown during these trying times. People and businesses are adapting and overcoming the challenges this year has presented. But, the Ballinger High School band has the edge in spirit, showing what a positive attitude can do to inspire people around you.

Wilson wanted to pass along her gratitude to those who have helped make the band's success possible this year:

*Band Boosters and BISD for making arrangements for the Ballinger Bearcats Band (BBB) to travel and compete!

*Johnny Fulton and First Baptist Church for donating chairs so that the BBB and visiting bands had seating.

*Lange Funeral Home for donating band signs for the BHS entry.

*Steve Gray for filming performances

*Mike Riley - the voice of the Mighty BBB on Friday Nights

*Steven and Melody Rutledge for feeding the BBB

*BISD field maintenance crew for having the band seating setup for each home game