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Manatee County marching bands prepare for state championship

Former middle school bandmates are now competitors as Lakewood Ranch and Braden River high schools vie for a championship.

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For years, Makayla Mocadlo remembered building friendships with her bandmates, such as Brian McCoy, at Carlos E. Haile Middle School.

She might have been thinking about the day when they would be competing together for a state marching band championship.

But McCoy, and several other of Mocadlo's friends, went a different direction, attending Lakewood Ranch High while Mocadlo went to Braden River High. Since the two schools were in different divisions, they wouldn't even be competing against each other.

That has changed.

With Lakewood Ranch's drop to the 3A division in 2022, the two perennial marching band powers will collide Nov. 20 in Fort Lauderdale as the Class 3A Florida Marching Band Championships begin.

“It’s weird to think that years ago, they were my friends and I saw them every day, and now our schools are rivals and we compete against them,” said Mocadlo, who is a junior. “It’s all good fun though.”

John Schindler, the director of Lakewood Ranch’s band, and Cliff Dawson, the director of Braden River’s band, said some 4A marching bands have dropped in their number of participants following the COVID-19 pandemic and that has created a larger 3A division. 

“It’s just kind of a sign of the times that (band) enrollment is down, and we’re all still working on recovering from that,” Dawson said. “We’re going to build our programs and keep things moving.”

Sidney Foeller, a Braden River sophomore, said having friends as rivals can be fun. 

“We’re both kind of pushing each other to be better than the other,” Foeller said.

Mocadlo said there’s been some teasing about which is the better band, but it’s all friendly competition. 

“I enjoy seeing their band, but I also enjoy the feeling of being able to compete against them and being able to score better than them,” Mocadlo said.

Lakewood Ranch and Braden River have had a longstanding rivalry in other sports and activities because of their proximity.

“In a perfect world, we both make finals, and we both place pretty well and everyone’s happy,” Schindler said. 

Robert Powers, a trumpet player, and the rest of the Lakewood Ranch High School Marching Mustangs will compete against 18 other bands, including Braden River High, at the state championships. (Courtesy photo)
Robert Powers, a trumpet player, and the rest of the Lakewood Ranch High School Marching Mustangs will compete against 18 other bands, including Braden River High, at the state championships. (Courtesy photo)

Schindler and Dawson said both schools have strong band programs, and they want to support each other as they represent Manatee County.

If they’re able, the directors said their students are likely to watch and cheer for their competitor.

But they both have to be concerned about 17 other Class 3A opponents as well.

“It’s nice we’re not going to be in a division where there’s nobody to measure yourself against," Dawson said. "It’s an interesting season for sure.”

Jonathan Torres, a senior and drum major at Lakewood Ranch, said it’s nerve-racking to go up against so many other bands, but it’s an opportunity for them to push themselves and work harder to get to finals.

Mocadlo said having so many opponents could leave them with a "major sense of accomplishment.” 

“We’re going to do great, and I’m proud of our band this year,” she said. “It’s a nice feeling knowing there are amazing bands we’re competing against and we’re actually in the running with them.”

Lauren Cunningham, a Lakewood Ranch sophomore, said with 81 students in the marching band, the Mustangs could have a bigger sound, which could help them in the state competition against Division 3A opponents that don't have as many participants. 

Schindler and Dawson said it’s more important for the bands to focus on themselves than the opponents.

“Everything we do is a learning process, and about pushing ourselves to be as good as possible,” Dawson said. “I start every year telling the kids work as hard as you possibly can and make the most of it. At the end of the year, no matter what happens, you’ll be thankful and happy you had a season knowing you did everything. It doesn’t matter if there were 18 bands or 48 bands.”

Schindler said although the band has done well at regional competitions throughout the season, it’s hard to tell where they stand because each regional event has a different judging panel. At the state championships, everyone will be critiqued by the same judges. 

“You can kind of get a gauge on it, but you never really know until we get to the semifinals venue,” he said. “Then everyone is under that same judging panel. I call it a clean slate for everyone.”

The directors said both bands have seen tremendous improvement from when they started working on their shows in July.

“You watch the kids who have never done marching band and they can barely put their left foot in front of their right foot,” Schindler said. “Suddenly, by the end of the year, they can do everything the seniors can do and everything we asked them. It’s a complete transformation from day one.”


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