Among the many high school extra-curricular opportunities, none can offer as much to as many students – and as cost-effectively – as a strong marching band program.

 These benefits were visible among members of the West Wilkes, North Wilkes, Wilkes Central and East Wilkes high school marching bands – both on and off the field – at the 13th annual Wilkes County Schools Band Exposition Saturday.

Hosted this year by West Wilkes High School, the final performance again was a rendition of “God Bless America” by the combined four bands as a salute to the armed forces. It again ended with students from the four bands informally jamming and dancing in the center of the field. It was a pure celebration of music – and relationships.

The expo, hosted by a different Wilkes high school each year, serves as a band program fundraiser and a chance to show off the results of many hours of practice logged each year by band students.

The event began amid a surge in support for Wilkes high school marching band programs 18 years ago, led by Dr. Steve Laws, school superintendent at that time. It helped inspire increased private donations to the high school band programs.

Unfortunately, lack of funding for many basic needs in the public schools has left little to spare for local marching band and other school programs considered less essential.

Except for salaries of the four band directors, band programs in the four Wilkes high schools and four middle schools are largely left to fend for themselves.

This makes fundraising efforts of band students and band booster organizations (parents of band students) especially important.

If you have a chance to participate in a Wilkes high school band fundraiser, be assured that it’s money well used.

Of course, it will take more than band fruit sales and other fundraisers to meet one of the greatest needs of these programs – hiring middle school band directors.

Without these additional personnel, we can expect the turnover rate of local high school band directors to stay high and building strong band programs to remain an uphill struggle.

Despite limited resources and having three first-year band directors (at North Wilkes, East Wilkes and Wilkes Central), the Wilkes high school bands enjoyed tremendous success in marching band competitions this year.

Accomplishments of the North Wilkes High School Marching Vikings merit being singled out: first place for Class 1A bands in marching, music, percussion, color guard drum major and overall at both the Mount Airy Festival of Bands and the North Davidson Marching Black Knights Fall Festival of Bands. North Wilkes also took first place in general effect at Mount Airy.

The Wilkes Central Marching Eagles entered four competitions this year and did well after not competing the prior two years.

The trophies brought home by all four Wilkes high school bands this year bear witness to positive memories and important lessons learned.

Music has a profound effect on the academic success of students, plus a strong marching band program instills self-confidence and a sense of belonging, helps students grow as leaders and helps them learn to handle responsibilities, the value of commitment and what hard work can produce.

There are other benefits of a good marching band program, but suffice it to say that it’s one of the best things going in the public schools.

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