Two Tri-Cities high school bands marching into top regional competition

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TRI-CITIES, Tenn. (WJHL) – Two of the biggest high school marching bands in the region will compete this weekend against 20 of the top bands in the Southeast.

The West Ridge High School and Dobyns-Bennett High School marching bands will compete on Saturday in the Bands of America Regional Championship in Johnson City.

The two bands, both talented, could not be more different. West Ridge is a brand new school entering its first Bands of America competition. Dobyns-Bennett has a championship pedigree, having won this competition four times and making the finals at the National Championship three times.

The West Ridge band went through a rehearsal of its performance on a wet and windy football field at the school. For band members, it’s the largest band they’ve ever played in. The band, excluding freshman, is comprised of the smaller bands of Sullivan Central, North and South high schools.

“They’ve been with those smaller groups and there are smaller responsibilities in those smaller groups,” West Ridge Band Director Heath Hopper said. “We got out here and it’s like, wow, now we have more depth.”

Hopper said their show, “The Journey,” represented the new union of the three schools.

The inaugural band season has not been without issue, however. Hopper said the band did not have its full uniforms until the day before its first competition earlier in the school year.

Additionally, the music stopped when dozens of members, including Hopper, caught COVID-19 after the first West Ridge home game.

“We had over 50 percent of the band out for two and a half weeks,” Hopper said. “That was not fun. We literally had to shut the program down.”

With the band now back on the field, Hopper believes this weekend’s competition can give the band a good opportunity to see how it stacks up against established bands around the Southeast.

The Dobyns-Bennett band is that type of competition. In two weeks, the band will compete for the National Championship in Indianapolis.

“We’ve been fortunate enough to be a finalist three times before, and we’d like to do it again, but it’s a pretty stiff lineup up there,” Dobyns-Bennett Band Director Lafe Cook said.

Last year, marching band competitions were shut down due to the pandemic. Lauren Bass-Callahan is a Dobyns-Bennett senior and the section leader for the trumpets. She called it disappointing missing out on band trips the last two years.

“All of the other band kids got to go on a cool trip every single year and I’m missing out on basically two years,” Bass-Callahan said. “It’s incredibly hard work, but it is so rewarding in the end and I’m incredibly excited I get to do it.”

Cook said he’s focused on making sure his students leave it all on the field Saturday.

“In competitive marching band, there is no defense. There’s only offense,” Cook said. “You can’t do anything to keep the other bands from being awesome, so you just want to be the most awesome version of you.”

Saturday’s competition will take place in the ETSU Mini-Dome starting at 11 a.m. and running all day until an awards presentation at 10:45 p.m.

Visit Johnson City officials said the competition could bring almost 4,000 people to Johnson City, generating upwards of $750,000.

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