Spring-Ford marching band captures championship in transition year

Spring-Ford Area High School's Golden Rams Marching Band (Submitted by Andreina Erwin)

ROYERSFORD — At the end of the 2011-12 school year, Spring-Ford Area High School’s marching band not only was losing the usual crop of outgoing seniors, but they were left without a director.

Fortunately, the Golden Ram Marching Band didn’t miss a beat, winning its third straight Group IV Atlantic Coast Championship, its sixth in the last seven seasons, under the newly hired Seth Jones.

“The students here really take a lot of ownership of whether they’re accomplishing their goals,” Jones said.

John Eckstine, who’d led the band to previous championships, retired from the school district following what was described as a “rolling domestic” on Route 422 May 2. He was recently sentenced to probation and community service after pleading guilty to charges stemming from the incident in which he and a woman, Jacqueline M. Alegado, drove recklessly and ended up crashing.

Alegado also pled guilty to the charges.

With the loss of Eckstine late in the year, the school district hired Jones in July, leaving him without much time to prepare a championship-caliber show.

To put it in perspective, Jones had approximately two months to put together a show for the 2012 season. For 2013’s show, planning has been in the works for more than a month already.

Jones served previously as a co-director to a marching band in California, so he had experience coming in, but adjusting to a new group as the sole director provided its challenges.

“I think there was a lot of apprehension of a new director,” Jones said.

The students were very “respectful” Jones said, which went a long way.

“In some regards, I needed them to take over and just do what they’ve always done,” Jones said. “It’s hard (to) kind of (be)jumping on a moving train, but what was really nice was I think the district prepared them really well for someone new.”

Other staff who worked with the marching band, such as George Growcott, Rob Bennett, Mark Thurston and Dwayne Dewire, began preparing as soon as they learned Eckstine would not be returning.

“When I came into the fold, a lot of the big work had been done,” Jones said.

Still, there was a learning curve that the members of the band helped Jones through.

“The first couple of weeks I was like, ‘Do what you normally do,’” Jones said, chuckling.

Soon, though, the students asked Jones what he wanted from them.

Jones praised their good attitudes going into a year when their show was not finalized as early as it normally would have been.

“I was really lucky to inherit a bunch of students who work really hard, that really understand the importance of working hard and achieving goals and setting high standards for themselves,” he said.

The show for 2012 was a “patchwork” of music the band had performed in the past, which included international pieces like “Russian Sailor’s Dance,” the theme from “The Hunt for Red October,” “Nimrod” from the Enigma Variation, and “Aka,” a Japanese-style song by Andrew Yasniack.

“It totally worked,” Jones said. “I don’t think that’s what they had envisioned but, given the circumstances, it was really successful.”

The week before the Atlantic Coast Championships, which were held Oct. 28 at Hershey Park Stadium, the band put serious effort into its rehearsals.

“We had a lot of talks about what it meant to be in the program and what it meant to be students in this,” he said.

The day before the championships, which were held earlier than normal, Jones said the band had its best rehearsal of the year.

“The students really committed themselves to making a good product for the audience,” Jones said.

Difficult weather conditions loomed as the band prepared for its big performance.

“The rain is just another factor you have to manage,” “The color guard really had to rehearse hard that week because it was really windy. We’re lucky, because I don’t think it really rained during our performance...we had a 20-minute window.”

The band came out on top in a field of 10, scoring 97.50, the highest marks it’s received since 2007.

Although they were able to three-peat, the Golden Ram Marching Band is already poised for the next outdoor season. Indoor color guards and percussion groups are competing through the winter and work will resume on the students’ end on 2013’s show in the spring.

The dedication is something Jones was impressed with. Those driving down South Lewis Road after dark well into the frigid fall could testify to how hard the band worked, performing drill and playing under portable lights in Spring-Ford Area High School’s parking lot.

“That’s a culture thing,” Jones said. “We have no attendance issues with this program.”

“The students really buy into the value of the rehearsal process here, the value of high achievement.”

Follow Frank Otto on Twitter @fottojourno.

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