Kennesaw Mountain and Walton High’s marching band students traveled to Indianapolis last weekend to compete in the Lucas Oil Stadium against 87 other marching bands from across the country.
Kennesaw Mountain’s band placed first in their category, seventh overall in the finals and received honors for “Outstanding Music Performance,” “Outstanding Visual Performance” and “Outstanding General Effect.”
Walton was named a semifinalist in their classification.
“It was a very, very long and grueling trip, but very rewarding for the students,” Kennesaw Mountain band director David McGrath said. “It’s a tremendous honor.”
McGrath, who has been with Kennesaw Mountain for two years, said 172 students went to the competition. They left at 3 a.m. Thursday and drove to Indiana, competing in their first performance in the preliminaries at 6:15 p.m.
“We literally drove, got off the buses and performed, with no time to rehearse,” he said. “They were quite fatigued but did a great job.”
The student performed a show called “Deliver Me,” which consists of seven different musical pieces and lasts a little over 10 minutes.
After being named one of the top 32 bands in their category and practicing all day Friday, they advanced to the semifinals competition Saturday afternoon and were named a finalist to perform one more time Saturday evening before winning first place.
“This is our school’s second AAA national championship, something the students, parents and community should be incredibly proud of,” McGrath said
The school last earned the honor in 2004. The band competes every two years for the honor.
McGrath thanked assistant director Michael Huebner, percussion specialist Max Mullinix and color guard instructor Adam Sage.
“(They) were very instrumental in making everything happen,” he said.
A few others who helped bring the production together were drum majors Cailyn Hornsby and Colette Wink and band captain Max Plastet, all of whom also attended the competition two years ago.
Horsby, 18, said their win means the world to her.
“It makes me so proud of my peers that we were able to accomplish something so great,” she said. “It makes me feel good to know that I got to experience this with all of my peers.”
Wink said the band undergoes hundreds of hours of preparation getting ready for the contest, practicing five days a week, including Friday night football game performances, and 12-hour Saturday rehearsals.
“It’s about 25 hours per week on a typical week,” the 17-year-old said. “Band really is what you get out of it. You get the immense pride in performance … you get that sense of commitment and know what it takes to work as a team to accomplish a goal and it teaches you a lot of life lessons.”
Plasket said this honor helps maintain a tradition of excellence in Cobb and is very satisfying to him as the band’s leader.
“When we got to the end, I was so ready to be done but I was also so ready to give it everything, I had to push through,” the trumpet player said.
Gary Markham, who has been the district’s band and orchestra director for the last 20 years, went to the event with the Walton and Kennesaw Mountain bands.
“Our programs nationally are just really a model for school districts, both in marching band and in concert bands,” he said. “As a school district, this is the happening place right now.”
Markham said Harrison, Lassiter and Pope high school bands have also performed well in the national competition.
“We are certainly proud of all of them,” he said. “All the bands that go are really pretty amazing.”
Roughly 12,500 students in Cobb participate in marching bands, about one in five middle and high school students in the district, Markham said.