Wooster High band glad to be back on the field

Wooster High band glad to be back on the field
Rumen Zdravchev

Director Craig French leads the Wooster High marching band in its performance at halftime of the Generals’ recent home football game at Follis Field. French said he wants members of the band to feel a sense of civic pride when performing.


Just a little more than four minutes remained before halftime at Wooster High’s Follis Field.

Down on the artificial turf, things were not going well for the host Generals in their week four football game against Akron’s St. Vincent St. Mary.

Two quick touchdowns by the Fighting Irish had run the score to 28-3. And the Generals’ bid to shave the gap ended with 30.1 seconds prior to the intermission when Wooster coughed up a fumble on the SVSM 2-yard line.

Yet, at the north end of the home-side bleachers, there was unbridled excitement in the air. As a sliver of a moon hovered low in the west, members of the Woo marching band anxiously buttoned up their uniform jackets and plunged the fasteners of feathery white plumes snugly into their round hats.

At last, a long-overdue performance in front of a good-sized home crowd was moments away.

“Start making your way down. Let’s have a great show, band,” director of bands Craig French said over his public address system.

“Even after four years, any performance you do, you’re gonna get nervous,” senior percussion section leader Ashton Dunlap said. “But having your home fans there to cheer you on and reciprocate, it’s always good. When you’re away, you’re performing. But you get a lot more response when you’re at home. It feels good to be back.”

Back, indeed, the teen musicians letting out months of frustrations resulting from a handful of family-only, pandemic-crowd showings that tainted the 2020 marching band season.

Even on this night, the 2021 home opener was a question mark just days prior to kickoff. Mansfield Madison was to be the Generals’ opponent but called off the trip because of COVID-19 quarantine concerns. A matchup against fill-in SVSM wasn’t confirmed until mid-week.

The band’s energized onfield maneuvers were precise, the tones of Toto’s “Africa” and a special “Pink” mash-up were crisp.

“As a senior I have a lot of experience. But I was a little nervous because tonight we did a pregame show,” said Jhon Fajardo, leader of the flute section. “We didn’t do pregame at the away games. So I was a little nervous for myself and for all my colleagues who were doing pregame for the first time. But it was still a lot of fun. It was really nice looking out to all the fans.”

Director French, in his third year at the helm, seemed to take everything in marching-man stride.

“Last year wasn’t a normal year at all,” French said. “So this is a nice return to normal for us. Last year we really simplified the drill. We kept it so that the kids were always next to the same kids for contact-tracing purposes. We kept everybody 6 feet apart the whole time. We did a lot of standing and not a lot of moving. We really kept it safe and simple.”

This fall’s Wooster High marching band is 155 members strong. All the music — the students must memorize each tune — and all the steps are all-new.

Despite the band having worked on the show since July, French sensed there might be a few butterflies.

“It’s a very young group,” he said. “Our senior group is very small. So a lot of them had never played before in front of a home crowd. There were definitely some jitters and a few little things that didn’t go as we practiced. But that’s the nature of performance.”

Senior Theo Ollier, leader of the alto saxophone section, was thrilled to be back at Follis.

“This year I think we’re a lot better musically and marching-wise, just because we’ve had so much more preparation,” Ollier said. “What makes it fun for me is the friends I’ve made in band and just getting to hang out with them on Friday nights.”

Two of the four home games on the 2021 schedule have been completed. The group, however, is looking far beyond the fall. The WHS marching band has been selected to travel to Walt Disney World in Orlando during spring break in April.

French, in his 21st year of teaching, remembers well his days as a marching band member in high school and college. He’s sold on the value of the overall experience.

“I just remember what the band meant to our community. I remember how proud they were of our marching band,” he said. “That made me want to be a part of it. As a teacher I want our kids to feel a sense of civic pride. I want them to understand that they offer something to our community that other people cannot. They can play music their entire life. That’s what I want them to take with them.”

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