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Manatee County high school marching bands gear up for state competition

The Braden River, Lakewood Ranch and Parrish bands are concentrated on growth in hopes of earning a medal at the top level.

Lakewood Ranch High School's Andrew Boudreau and Tyler Patten give it their all during a performance.
Lakewood Ranch High School's Andrew Boudreau and Tyler Patten give it their all during a performance.
Courtesy image
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As the rain poured down Oct. 12, the Lakewood Ranch High School marching band members knew they had to keep practicing.

So their entire production moved inside to the gym as drum majors Kathleen Montanaro and Emorie Lawrence taped the floor to look like an indoor football field.

Both the Lakewood Ranch, Braden River and Parrish Community high school bands understand that at this point of the season, with the Florida Marching Band Championships approaching Nov.11 in Clearwater, every minute of practice is important. 

Once inside the dry confines of the gym, the Marching Mustangs continued to work on marching basics.

Cliff Dawson, the director of the Braden River High School Marching Band of Pirates, said the band already has its entire show on the field and is working to make it better. 

Competitions, like Lakewood Ranch High’s Music in Motion Oct. 21 and the Braden River’s Marching Band Invitational Nov. 4, give the bands an opportunity to see where they stand against other bands and to measure their own improvement.

Music in Motion and the Marching Band Invitational also are fundraising opportunities for the bands.

Kathleen Montanaro, a senior and drum major for the Lakewood Ranch High School Marching Mustangs, leads the band during a performance.
Courtesy photo

Jonathan Pavone, a junior and low brass section leader for Braden River, said once the Marching Band of Pirates has achieved a new high score, that becomes the standard. 

“We have to now surpass that," said. "We can’t accept anything below that. That’s kind of a driving force for future rehearsals.”

Lakewood Ranch and Braden River both saw success at their respective competitions Oct. 7. 

Braden River placed first at the Seminole Sound Spectacular at Seminole High School, and the band also received Best in Class for color guard, percussion, music, visual and general effect. 

Lakewood Ranch was the first runner-up at the Wiregrass Ranch Marching Music Festival and placed first in its division. The band also won best music overall. 

John Wilkerson, the director of the Marching Mustangs, said the Wiregrass Ranch competition was a turning point in the season for the band. Wilkerson said students had doubts about the show when he presented the vision for it to them at the beginning of the season, but after hearing judges’ comments, they are all in. 

“Now everybody’s bought in because they had validation, not just from me, the staff and our parents, but now from the judging community, from the band community,” he said. “That’s huge. That makes this a win-win for us right there.”

Students and directors said their respective successes finally gave younger students the opportunity to see why they’ve been working so hard all season. 

“A lot of people were concerned about how we would do and keeping up the momentum of it because when you’re at band camp, you don’t understand what you’re getting out of the season, particularly because it’s literally two weeks of dreading-hot work outside,” Montanaro said. “When you get to the first competition, it adds more energy, it adds more dedication to the work you want to do and perform.”

Braden River and Lakewood Ranch are striving to return to the years of success they had prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, Braden River celebrated a third consecutive state championship win in its division. Lakewood Ranch has placed in the finals 12 times since 2002.

“The culture overall (at Braden River) is different because it’s not the same expectation level or obsession as it was back in the three-peat of ‘17, ‘18 and ‘19 or even before then,” said Hudson Knapp, a senior and drum major for Braden River. “They had that culture that was built up that only demanded success. The only measurement of it was did they win? We have to remind ourselves constantly as a leadership team that success for these past years has been much more than just in a trophy. It’s been growing, trying to rebuild.”

Students said the pandemic caused their programs to see a significant decrease in members, which meant their bands had to rebuild their programs. More freshmen and sophomores means the bands have to spend more time teaching the fundamentals before diving into their shows. 

“A lot of these kids don’t know about marching band, they haven’t heard about it in the past few years. A lot of them are brand new to performing in general and don’t have any sort of experience,” said Liliana Vasquez, a senior and head captain for Braden River’s color guard. “From band camp where we were in July to now, we’ve grown exponentially. It’s incredible looking around and seeing all the kids that I once saw who didn't even know how to do the basics now know what they’re doing. I have a pretty good feeling that by the end of this season, we’ll be in good standing."

Lakewood Ranch and Braden River both bands also saw shifts in directors. Braden River director Jeramiah Bowman left the school in 2021 to be the curriculum and instruction specialist for visual and performing arts for the School District of Manatee County. Lakewood Ranch High director Ron Lambert retired in 2021. 

Since then, Dawson has taken the helm of the band programs at Braden River, and John Schneider led the Marching Mustangs for two years before Wilkerson became director this school year. 

Braden River High School's Marching Band of Pirates placed fifth at the Florida Marching Band State Championship.
Courtesy image

Wilkerson said Lakewood Ranch already had a foundation, and it’s his job to build upon it. 

“One thing that’s helped the students and the parents is saying this is the vision, this is where we’re going,” he said. “When you have a vision, people can see where you’re going to and they’re going to buy into it. The moment the students buy into it, that’s 75% of my job right there. I have a quote and a standard that I live by that I brought here to Lakewood Ranch, and it’s ‘perfection is the standard, excellence is the goal.’”

Knapp said as much pressure there is to return to the days of being state champions, there is greater opportunity to make a statement that “no matter how big we are or how new we are, you can still get to that level.”

The bands will spend the final month before the state championships perfecting their routines. 

“Every day is another step closer towards our goals as a whole, and if you take one misstep or if you don’t take advantage of those days, you’re going to be running a marathon to try and cross that finish line,” Vasquez said. “It’s so much easier if you put in that consistent effort every single day.”

Parrish Community High School's Pride of Parrish Marching Band will compete in its third state championship this year. 

With 10 more members compared to last year's 59, Kendal Carrier, the director of the band, said the band is able to cover more of the field during its show. As band members have become more experienced, Carrier said the band is able to increase the quality of music and drill it can produce. 

The band is focused on becoming routine state finalists. Last year, the band placed fourth in finals in Class 2A.  

"Seeing them compete at a higher level is inspiring because they're doing a much more challenging show," Carrier said. "There's a lot more visual responsibility, and they're growing quickly. They're working super hard representing the school and community at a high level."



Liz Ramos

Liz Ramos covers education and community for East County. Before moving to Florida, Liz was an education reporter for the Lynchburg News & Advance in Virginia for two years after graduating from the Missouri School of Journalism.

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