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Region’s marching bands are hot — and so is the weather

Sweat drips from Patrick Brown’s face as he practices with the Long Beach High School band before performing at the Gulf Coast Invitational Marching Festival at Biloxi High School on Saturday.
Sweat drips from Patrick Brown’s face as he practices with the Long Beach High School band before performing at the Gulf Coast Invitational Marching Festival at Biloxi High School on Saturday. jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com

What started as an opportunity for Coast band students get a feel for competition has turned into a regional event, drawing in high school band programs from Louisiana, Alabama and Florida.

On Saturday, the Biloxi High School Band hosted the Gulf Coast Invitational Marching Band Festival. Eighteen marching bands put up with the blistering heat and performed in front of each other, friends and family, and the judges. They will take the good and the bad with them when they perform two weeks down the road at the state level.

“The goal is to get the kids used to competing,” Biloxi High School Fine Arts Director Travis Coakley said. “State competitions are coming up soon. It’s an education process for the students and the teachers. It started as a way to get them ready for that.”

Coakley spearheaded the festival five years ago. He said the Coast’s tradition and appreciation for fine arts is a big reason why. It’s growth in those years has been inspiring, he said.

“We are a fine arts community,” he said. “This is a great place to teach music.”

Nationally recognized judges graded each school’s performance. Fellow students and parents, decked out in school colors, cheered their schools.

The afternoon temperature was 90 degrees, but Weather.com said it felt more like 100 degrees. For the kids on the field with uniforms on, it must have felt like 150 degrees.

Band parents did what they’ve become accustomed to do on days like these: They handed out bottles of water, fired up the grills to cook food for the students and sat under tents selling items to raise money for upcoming band events.

Biloxi High band parent Margaret Wilcox sat behind a fundraising booth with Sandra Sekeal and Katie Cromer, who also have children in the band. They’ve followed their children from one event to another. In the process, they’ve become close friends.

“A lot of people don’t know how much work being a band parent is,” Wilcox said. “You have the Friday-night games. They practice three times a week. Then there are the Saturday competitions.”

The same process often happens to band mates. Some students start playing music as early as fifth grade. More often than not, those who join a band become a cohesive group and form friendships through the years. The kids keep in the touch after high school. There’s even an alumni band.

“We have the hardest-working kids,” Coakley said. “They put in long hours, they work hard. They don’t complain. They ask for more. It’s a great group of kids to work with.”

“It keeps the kids off the streets,” Sekeal said. “They really have so much to do with band. It’s a busy, busy schedule. And they manage to do well in school. It’s true. Band kids are going places.”

Justin Vicory: 228-896-2326, @justinvicory

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