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East County Wednesday, Sep. 21, 2022 2 weeks ago

East Bradenton band parents along for the ride during marching season

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Lakewood Ranch and Braden River high school parents dedicate hundreds of hours to support their students in marching band.
by: Liz Ramos Staff Writer

Nicole McCoy and Joanne Burden, parents of students in Lakewood Ranch High School’s marching band, remember anxiously awaiting the news.

Officials were getting ready to announce the five bands that would make the finals of the 2019 Florida Marching Band Championships.

“This one just stuck with me because it was Lake Howell (High School) that made sixth,” McCoy said. “When they said, ‘Lake,’ you could see all the kids inhale and their bodies tensed up. It’s the emotion that they get ... that we get.”

The parents were cheering every bit as loud as the kids when it was announced that Lakewood Ranch High placed fourth and would compete in the finals. The band went on to place third overall in its division at finals.

Juana Drier and Jessica Eastman cheer for the Braden River High School marching band as they compete in the 2021 state championships. Eastman says it was an emotional performance after a season of ups and downs. (File photo)

Parents put in hundreds of hours of volunteer work in supporting the bands and share the same emotional rollercoaster ride as the students.

“I’ll be honest, there’s some weeks that I work more on band stuff than I do on my regular job,” said Chuck Knapp, whose son Hudson Knapp is a junior at Braden River High.

He said the behind-the-scenes prep work that goes into hosting a competition, or the work to travel to an event, is significant.

Parents raise money for the band, building props, designing band T-shirts, providing first aid, sewing and sizing uniforms, sewing flags, washing uniforms,  running concession stands at games, chaperoning trips and throwing parties.

On football game days, parents arrive at least two hours before kickoff to help the band prepare for the game.

At Lakewood Ranch High's game Sept. 2, McCoy and Burden were at the school by 4:30 p.m. along with other parents to get uniforms ready, sign in middle school students for middle school night, load trailers with props and instruments and prepare the concessions stand. 

Nicole McCoy, a Lakewood Ranch High School marching band parent, brings uniforms out to the band room to make it easier for band members to have access. (Photos by Liz Ramos)

Parents say all the work also helps strengthen the family environment. They work with their kids to teach them organization, time management, leadership and more.

Keith and Jeannette Scutti saw the impact the band had on their oldest daughter, Olivia, who graduated in 2020. So they are now band parent volunteers.

“We saw that it inspired her and gave her something to believe in and look forward to,” Jeannette Scutti said. “It was a time when she needed something like that. When we saw she was really into it, as a family, we made a decision to just dive in.”

The family moved from Pinellas County before Olivia Scutti’s freshman year. Olivia attended a football game and, after watching the band first-hand, decided she wanted to be a member of the Marching Band of Pirates.

“We didn’t realize how much it was going to change our lives,” said Keith Scutti, who noted his daughter went from having no friends to having a second family.

"She felt like she belonged and was a part of something,” he said.

Greg Burden, Marty Gnad and Joseph Flesche, who are Ranch Hands for Lakewood Ranch High School's band, unload the prop chariot from the trailers. The Ranch Hands build the props and load and unload them from trailers.

Now the Scutti family is in their final year with the band program as their daughter Grace Scutti is in her senior year at Braden River High. 

While Grace Scutti was at a nine-hour rehearsal Sept. 17, so were Keith and Jeannette Scutti as well as dozens of other parents. 

The parents focused on building props for Braden River High School Marching Band of Pirates' "Lessons Learned" show. Besides building props, they also made sandwiches to feed the band. 

The parents love being a part of the legacy their bands have created. 

“We volunteer specifically so that we can be a part of keeping this going,” McCoy said. “We want to make sure the next generation of kids can also have this opportunity. It’s such an incredible opportunity for anyone who’s interested.”

Jeannette Scutti and Burden said being a part of the band gives them an opportunity to be close with their high schoolers for the last few years before they graduate.

“Everyone knows that in high school your parents aren’t cool anymore,” Jeannette Scutti said. “They don't want to hang out with you.

"What this did for us as parents is it gave us four more years to interact with our kids, their friends and be a part of their every day (life). They’re putting in the work. We’re putting in the work. I can only hope I’m showing my daughter that once she has children, she can be part of what inspires them and makes them happy.”

Rather than looking out on the field watching the football game, many parents are facing the opposite direction looking at their students performing in the stands. Once halftime hits, their attention is on the field seeing their students play and march their way through a show.

Parents said they are constantly amazed how marching band brings together students with different levels of ability and marching skills.

“In the beginning of the year, they always feel like they’re a hot mess,” said Jessica Eastman, whose daughter Abby Pollard is a sophomore in Braden River’s color guard. “Last year, at the end of the season when we were at states, they went on after a season of ups and downs and every parent on the sideline was crying. To watch those kids put all their heart out there is so fulfilling for them and us as parents.”

Parents like Braden River High's Jeremy Wade and Vanessa Embry work together in the concessions stand to support the band program. Parents say they become more like family after working hours together.

Not only was Pollard a freshman last year, but Eastman said she felt like a freshman herself as a new "band mom." 

After Pollard came home from rehearsal Aug. 28, Eastman's work for the band was just beginning for the day. She spent the night sewing flags for the color guard. 

Both Pollard and Eastman don't feel like freshmen anymore.

By the end of the season, the parents feel all the band students are their own kids.

“You’re out there with them,” Keith Scutti said. “You’re not just standing on the side watching, waiting to applaud. You’re looking for everything that goes right, everything that goes wrong because you’re not just going to a show. You’ve been to half the practices. You know where the weaknesses are, where the strengths are, what can go wrong. You’re looking forward to it. You want to be a part of it. It just brings you to that emotional level.”

One of Burden’s favorite moments of the marching band season is at the beginning when the band is learning “The Horse.”

“The new kids are mixed with the older kids and as a parent, you stand by like, ‘OK, we’ll get there,’” Burden said. “By the end of the year, they are so powerful and so passionate.”

The scary moments while learning the song come when every other trombone player ducks while the trombone player to their left swings their trombone over the other’s head. McCoy said by the end of the season, the trombone players are doing it blindfolded.

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