I feel like I can call you “Jim” rather than “Mr. Rome” since you did, after all, call me and many others “dorks” on New Year’s Day. So, “Jim” it is. I have a few other choice words I can call you, but we’ll just leave those to your imagination. Shall we?
I was an extremely awkward 7th grader when I joined my junior high marching band, not to mention a mediocre clarinetist. I won’t share those first year’s pictures with you or anyone else because like most 12 and 13 year olds, my legs were too long, my feet were too big, my hair was huge, my braces were awful, and my face was too pimply.
But 8th grade was awesome. That’s when I found my niche. For a year, I had watched the drum major do her thing (up in West “By, God!” Virginia, we called them “Field Commanders.” Quite a ridiculous title.) and decided that’s what I wanted to do. And by gosh, I did it. And did it really well.
There I am, in 1986, at the tender age of 14, at the Wayne County Band Festival. It was the beginning of 9th grade and the Spring Hill Junior High Rebel marching band was in full band festival mode. I had done the drum major gig for a year and I was on it. I loved it. Marching band made me feel like somebody. For a quiet, introverted nerd whose favorite pastime was reading, being out in front of the band made me feel special. I could shine.
But, really, I was just a dork, right?
Whoops! Here I am being a dork. Again. Same afternoon. I had just won a 1st place trophy for being the best danged drum major in Wayne County that afternoon. That year. These band festivals were a way for some junior high and high school bands to raise money. They would pay a few dollars for shiny, engraved trophies and the parents would work concessions, serving out donated food to other parents who came to watch their kids perform, kids wearing band uniforms those parents paid for, riding on buses paid for by those parents because the county didn’t have the money for weekend trips, performing in a band festival paid for by those parents because of the entry fee. I can’t even tell you how many Indian River oranges, tangerines, and grapefruits I sold each winter and how many candy bars I sold each spring to raise money. This picture was probably taken in September or October but us kids had been hard at it since the last week of July, giving up five weeks of our summer vacation for camp and practice just so we could be in the band.
Oh, wait, I was mistaken. We did all that just so we could be dorks.
After three years of junior high, off to high school I went. The South Charleston High School Black Eagles marching band was pretty awesome and I spent 10th grade paying my dues in the back and, yet again, did the drum major thing for two years after that.
And let me tell you. I killed it. There I am, in the yearbook, giving a bad-ass fist salute because we nailed it at the Greenbrier County band festival that year. That night? I was supposed to be a bridesmaid at a friend’s wedding. But instead, I was at that band festival. That lady to my right? Mrs. Kennedy. She was a hard-ass, told me if I missed that festival, I would flunk the semester. So I went. I poured my heart and soul into my performance that night. The rest of the band knew I was upset. It was our last festival of the year and I didn’t want to be there. I wanted to be standing with Dee Dee at her wedding. So we all made our steps crisper, our notes louder, and our smiles bigger.
I scored a 98 out of a possible 100. The band rolled away with tons of trophies.
But this isn’t about trophies and glory. This is about all us “dorks” who sacrifice our Friday nights to sit on the sidelines and play the fight song for every touchdown, whether it be rain, sleet, or clear skies. We sweat in our full-on polyester band uniforms, sopping wet, sometimes freezing, our hands so numb we could barely play, carrying instruments that are probably upwards of 40 pounds (TUBAS! BASS DRUMS!) and perform to keep the crowds excited and happy, even when our football teams are sucking. Did you know, Jim? My first parade as drum major? I marched in the pouring rain with a 103-degree fever? Yep. Dorkish dedication right there. Those marching band dorks do it not for the glory or the accolades. We do it because we love it, despite what people like you may say.
But the worst part of what you said? Is that you didn’t just say it to those members of the Oregon, FSU, Alabama, and Ohio State marching bands. You also said it to the 12-year-old trumpet player who is struggling to learn how to play his instrument and march at the same time. You said it to the insecure 14-year-old majorette who constantly hits herself on the head with her baton because she’s still learning how to catch it. You said it to the 17-year-old snare drummer who is going to ROCK a DCI drum line in a few years’ time.
You said it to me. The awkward, bushy-haired, 13-year-old field commander who made her debut performance sick as a dog in the rain beside the Kanawha River. And you also said it to me, the 42-year-old mother of three who hopes one day to be a band parent.
Think before you speak, Jim. Think before you make fun of those kids trying to find their niche, their tribe, their place in this big, bad world. Think before you ridicule the kids whose parents have sacrificed money and time and mileage to get their kids to away football games in a clean uniform with functional instruments. Think before you call children hurtful names. You’re a 50-year-old man who should know better. You didn’t just call those college-age adult students “dorks.” You also labeled every. single. minor. child. who proudly participate in marching bands around the country.
I’m glad you apologized. And I hope you’ve learned your lesson. #MarchonRome isn’t just about correcting your poor judgement. It’s also about us being damned proud of who we are and standing up for that. We are marching bands. We love our football teams, our parades, our festivals, our uniforms, our band families. And mostly, we love our music.
Heather Dobson (née Scarbro)
Field Commander, Spring Hill Junior High, 1985-1987
Field Commander, South Charleston High School, 1988-1990
Field Commander, Spirit of America Marching Band, 1990