Signal Corps Marching Band captured the Governor’s Challenge Cup in early November to win the Tennessee Division II High School Marching Band State Championship for the first time ever in school history!
Our band has consistently placed among the top five teams at State in recent years and was ranked third two years ago in a tight finish where only a few points separated the top three bands. COVID-19 prevented the event from being held last year.
Head Director Drew Buckner noted that not only was this our first State championship in program history but also the first from any school in the Chattanooga area since the state competition was introduced 40 years ago.
“We try to never talk with our kids about accomplishments, trophies or winning, because of how negative pride can be to the fun of marching band and the family it creates,” he said. “That makes it even sweeter that these students got to experience a reward for their hard work.”
He reminded band members after the state trophy presentation that they stand on the shoulders of 13 years of hard work by their predecessors to build the legacy of our program that brought them to that moment.
“I know the many years of Signal Mountain Band alumni are smiling at this year’s students being able to take those many years of hard work to a climax,” Buckner said.
Several of those former band families, and a few alumni, were in the crowd that came out to see the show and help send off Signal Corps to the prestigious Bands of America Grand Nationals Championship in Indianapolis.
Few bands of our size, 104 total with instrumentalists and color guard, enter a BOA regional competition, much less the Grand Nationals. Signal was among only 27 from across the country in its class.
Buckner knew this was the year for Signal Corps, with its blend of musicians and staff, which included the return of visual designer Jordan Pitner.
“I left Signal Mountain (a few years earlier) because life called me in a different direction,” Pitner said. “But my heart stayed here the whole time I was gone. Being back has been a dream.
“In some ways, it’s like I never left: The staff and students still work relentlessly; there’s still that selfless attitude and teamwork everywhere you look. But the team got even better in the years since I left. That’s what I love about being here: Everyone is a student of the game, and we never settle for ‘good enough.’”
Pitner noted that band students sacrifice much for the chance to chase greatness. Their spare time is filled with practices, football games, and 18- to 20-hour show days spent on buses and in stadium parking lots. They stay up late finishing homework and are asked to practice extra on their own.
“It’s a tremendous demand for anybody,” he said, “but they trust in the process and give it their all week in and week out.”
Buckner noted that while many things fell apart with COVID-19 last year, band members kept a “somewhat normal season,” just without competitions.
“That helped put them in such a great place to start this year,” he said, “without skills and motivation lost. The students this year took that to the next level, with such a unique fervor for excellence and family.”
They were thrilled to be recognized for the first time ever as champion of A Bradley Classic regional competition, beating larger bands early in the season. That gave them momentum to keep chugging along, even better and faster.
Many have referred to this year’s group of students, parent volunteers, and staff as a “dream team,” which Buckner and Pitner embrace. Mr. Pitner said, “We have a big vision for the future of Signal Corps, and I’m so glad we could start it off with a state title.”
That team also includes Matt Broom, percussion director, who’s been with the program since inception; Cody Thompson, color guard director; Holly Paxton, color guard instructor; Ian McNeese, front ensemble instructor; Alfredo Smith, battery instructor; Tyler Edrington, show designer and coordinator; and Shelby Walker, associate band director.
Edrington came up with the train show theme of “Crossing Signal,” which evolved to include two tunnels, a train track tarp, several crossing signals that light up, and simulated steam from an engine. The fast-paced show also includes a train whistle, conductor yelling “All Aboard,” synthesized train sounds, and drills that have musicians simulating train wheels and gears, as well as show tops, drum wraps, and flags that provide a steam punk look of gears and smoke.
“As a native of Chattanooga, I thought there was no other appropriate way to represent our city on the national stage than to create a train-themed show concept that highlights the history of our community,” said Edrington, who also is color guard caption supervisor for the prestigious Carolina Crown in the Drum Corps International circuit.
It was obvious the band kids had fun doing the show, and our football game crowds looked forward each game to seeing what new had been added to the halftime show.
Buckner credits student captains Will Marsden, Emma Wu, Trevor McGhie, Kolsten Keene, Claire Smiley, Jake Stubblefield and Kalissa Luttrell, as well as great section leaders and seniors as being instrumental in creating “an amazing family this year, as well as being an inspiration for excellence to those around them.”
He also praised an extraordinary music booster board for being “such positive problem solvers the entire season. They have truly made this operation happen for our students this year.”
This year’s booster executive board consists of Melissa Barrett, Christine Stubblefield, Kate Campbell, Allison Gord, and Kristin Robertson with bookkeeper (and former band parent) Sue Menke and current band parents Katrina Keene, Mitch Stubblefield, Mika Dapp, Kitty Castellanet, Jackie Benkert, and Jennifer Innes providing additional support in lead positions.
The band appreciates the Mountain Education Foundation providing scholarships to assist several of our students in making the trip to Indianapolis. The group also appreciates what Buckner described as “a unique support for the arts” from our principal, Dr. Shane Harwood, and two fellow band dads, Dr. Robert Sharpe and Marco Perez, who also are a learning community superintendent and school board member, respectively.
“It’s so great to have these three men in our students’ lane,” he said.
“I’m so proud of our kids and leaders and so thankful for all of our parents and others who support them,” Harwood said.
Sharpe had the pleasure of transporting the band’s 13 state trophies, which included a large division cup and 5-foot tall championship trophy, in his car from Smryna to the school.
That trip home in the wee morning hours culminated with an escort from the Signal Mountain police that excited the kids, since they’d never experienced that recognition that our police so graciously provide our state champions.
Author’s Note: As president of this year’s music boosters board, I can attest to the hard work and dedication given by this group of students and staff. It has been AMAZING to watch this show evolve and students mature and achieve excellence. Thanks to all those in our community who support the Signal Corps Marching Band.
by Melissa Barrett