The Shawnee Mission South Marching Band headed to Warrensburg, Mo., last weekend with a simple goal: Make the finals in the University of Central Missouri Festival of Champions.
“Our kids work very hard, but in the field of competitive marching bands, you’ve got teams who are devoting much, much more time than we have and have huge budgets,” said longtime band director Steve Adams. “The thought was, if we make finals, that would mean we’re still available to compete with the best.”
Things looked pretty good through the preliminary rounds, with the team putting in a solid performance of its “Immortal Love” routine, with music arranged by assistant band director Paul Schapker and choreography arranged around the story of a vampire and his love.
To make the finals, the team had to score among the top 12 of the 30 team field, which included some of the biggest programs in the midwest. They stood at seventh place after prelims. They’d achieved their goal.
But, as Adams now says, “things were going to get better.”
The temperature had dropped sharply by the time the Raiders took the field for their finals performance, but they were focused. From the moment the first notes came, they entire crew seemed perfectly in sync. It was, hands down, the best performance they’d put in this year.
“I would say the best way to describe it is that it was so good that our staff didn’t know they were capable of doing it so well,” he said.
Still, teams rarely move up or down significantly from their preliminary performance placement in the final results. In these competitions, organizers only announce the top four finishers. So when the PA announcer began to list off the winners, the Raiders figured that if they had a chance of making the podium, it would be in the fourth slot. Instead, the announcer called out Olathe Northwest.
“I kind of looked around and said, ‘How many of you were hoping they were going to call us?'” Adams recalled. “They nodded their heads. We were a little disappointed, maybe, and kind of were ready to move on. Hey, it’s been a great day. We’re happy with what we accomplished.”
And then, the announcer said that SM South had come in third.
“These kids were freezing in the stands, all wrapped up in blankets,” Adams said. “As soon as they called our name, all of a sudden it was like a nice, warm, sunny day.”
Adams, a SM South graduate who played trombone in the band as a student, has led the program for 31 years. Though they’ve placed third or above a couple of times in his history, he said this year’s third place finish was special.
“It was a very good season from the beginning,” he said. “Our drum majors were extra special this year in motivating the performers while having a good time. Band is a lab for developing leadership and working together. That’s how they were able to rise above.”
Here’s video of the award-winning performance: