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East Bradenton marching bands play waiting game

Local high school band directors hope for a full competitive season but plan for a modified or canceled season.

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Jordan Sheehan, a rising senior at Braden River High School, has wanted to stand on a ladder at the Florida Marching Band Competition state championship conducting the Marching Band of Pirates.

But due to COVID-19, his dream might not happen. 

Although Gov. Ron DeSantis announced schools could fully reopen when the school year opens in August, he has left it to the individual school districts to make a decision about reopening.

The School District of Manatee County has not yet decided whether it will open fully, continue e-learning or institute a combination of the two when the new school year opens Aug. 10. 

That decision will affect the marching bands, which are among the largest organizations at Braden River and Lakewood Ranch high schools.

Both Jeramiah Bowman, the band director for Braden River’s Marching Band of Pirates, and Ron Lambert, the band director of Lakewood Ranch’s Marching Mustangs, have plans in place for each scenario of reopening.

Bowman is prepared to have a normal season, but he will be prepared for a modified show to perform at community events or football games if schools conduct a blended learning mode and limit the competitive season.

“We are trying to anticipate every scenario that could happen and have a plan for it,” Bowman said. “Until some final decisions are made, and we’re actually back at it, we’re going to have to be patient.”

Sheehan hopes for a full competitive schedule so the Pirates have a chance to defend their state championship.

“Pep band is fun and the football games are fun but having the full performance show, getting to go to the (state competition) finals is the most unforgettable experience,” Sheehan said. 

Lambert said he is putting every bit of his energy into the district’s plan A, which is fully reopening. He believes school will open as normal in the fall.

If schools are doing a blended model of learning or continuing e-learning, Lambert plans to focus on the development of individual musicians.

“I’ve challenged them in the time we’ve been studying virtually to come out of this even better players and musicians than they were,” he said. 

Bowman said it was devastating to leave the school year without being able to celebrate the band’s accomplishments in person, especially for the seniors. Next year’s seniors might not have their final marching season. 

“We have another senior class coming up and they’re excited to get back to it, put together a competitive show and get out there and perform,” Bowman said. “I wish I had answers for them, but I just don’t know. That’s the hard part.”

Bowman expects Braden River’s band to have around 90 students while Lambert expects Lakewood Ranch’s to have at least 125 students. 

Both directors are looking forward to connecting with their students in person again.

“We’ve been faces on a video screen for almost four months now, so it’s going to be fun to be together, and bringing this show to life is going to be a lot of fun,” Lambert said. 

Marching Band of Pirates would have already had a week of band camp in June, but due to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, the band and color guard were unable to meet. 

Both bands are waiting until July 6 or July 7 to meet in small groups following guidelines similar to that of the athletic teams. The guidelines include limiting the time everyone can be together, the equipment that can be used and the number of people that can meet. While the athletics teams have received direction from the district what they can do in terms of practicing, the bands have not.

The bands are cutting back financially in anticipation of fundraising challenges.

A large fundraiser for the bands are the football game concessions, but if the games are canceled or aren’t open to the public, the bands won’t receive as much money.

Braden River has chosen to lower band fees if the band is able to compete this season to help families who have been impacted financially by COVID-19. If the band has a non-competitive season, the fees will be even lower because the band won’t need the props for the shows or be traveling as much.


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