Summary of early responses in our Illinois marching band state championship survey

In a partnership with Illinois Marching Online, Voxitatis launched a survey (please take it, if you haven’t already, here) that aims to assess the general inclination Illinois marching bands have toward participating in a state championship series or tournament sponsored by the Illinois High School Association (IHSA).

We learned Monday that IHSA is expected to survey its member schools in November to determine if at least 10 percent of them would participate in a state marching band championship. If their survey meets that number (about 80 schools), the IHSA executive board would presumably move forward with developing a state series in marching band, forming advisory committees and such.

On our survey, which is informal and non-binding, we have received so far only five responses from band directors. I asked Illinois band directors this question in 2009, and they were split down the middle: about half of them didn’t think a state championship was a good idea, and about half of them did. Based on a small number of responses, that hasn’t changed much. Furthermore, in the current survey, among directors who would like to see a state championship, many thought ironing out details between diverse marching bands in Illinois high schools would be an uphill battle.

Not only do bands in Illinois include several that use different marching styles—they don’t all play by the same rules, so judging one against the other could be problematic—but Illinois also has large suburban schools with lots of money, suburban schools that are in the red constantly and worried about their music programs in general, urban schools in Chicago, and schools in small towns and rural areas, where the issues are completely different.

“I think [smaller schools] are handicapped with less resources,” one director wrote.

Now, since IHSA has thrown its hat into the ring, most of the responses, including those two directors who think Illinois should have a state championship, worry that the IHSA might not be able to pull it off.

“IHSA has no background in running anything like this and if it is anything like Solo and Ensemble or Organizational Contest, it will be unorganized and not done to support the success of students,” one respondent wrote.

Consider what IHSA currently pays judges at Org and S and E. Nothing close to what real judges at a quality marching band contest pays to get quality judges. This is also about directors having the ability to choose where their students compete based on the needs of their programs. This entire idea will force directors into putting their kids into situations that may not be in their best educational interest. Marching band competition is about promoting success in your programs and therefore you should have the ability to choose where you go without any regulation or dictatorial decree from IHSA saying you go here and here and here just to have a “sanctioned” series of competitions.

Other directors, though, have a more positive opinion about the IHSA, but that might be the result of influence by school administrators. “Our administration is very ‘pro-IHSA’ on every level. I feel the expectation would be that we would participate in this event as well,” one of them wrote.

To summarize responses from directors, two think there should be a state championship, one of whom said IMEA, as opposed to IHSA, should try to run the thing, and two others think there should not be a state series at all. One answered, “Not sure … IHSA doesn’t understand the music aspect with their policies. It’s just a bunch of ex-coaches at the helm trying to put a system in place with no regard to the actual activity.”

OK. Illinois already has a great many festivals that serve as pseudo-competitions. A grand champion is usually named at each of these, but none of them can lay claim to a state champion. And the quality of each of Illinois’s marching festivals varies considerably.

“I answer yes [to starting a state series], but that is mainly from the standpoint of a standardized set of rules in regards to classification and judging. Right now, it is not uncommon for a band to attend 4 contests and deal with 4 different classification systems and judging sheets,” one director wrote.

Another director who favored a state championship series wrote that it “would provide some sort of stability and consistency within the judging, ranking and classifications.”

That’s about all that can be summarized from the responses so far. Oh, I would be neglecting my duty as a reporter if I didn’t say that everyone who said they weren’t a director (parents, students, former students, etc.)—a whopping nine responses to date—said Illinois should sponsor and sanction a state championship. A few offered reasons:

“What’s not to like? Standardized scoring, a true idea of where the band ‘stacks up’ against other bands its size, a really good organized system. Of course Marian Catholic gets to run over its class,” one student wrote.

Organized? We can only hope any music “advisory committee” is good for the IHSA and it doesn’t run like solo and ensemble contest. Can’t argue about Marian Catholic running over its class, though. That sort of goes without saying. They have earned that distinction as being the only seven-time Grand National Champion at Bands of America, with no other school being even close. Like Michael Phelps winning more medals than any other Olympic athlete, Marian Catholic’s distinction at Bands of America may never fall.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more biographical information, see the About page.