The Henryville High School marching band boarded the bus at 3:30 a.m. Saturday and rode more than 200 miles to say thank you to Fort Wayne.
The Golden Band marched in the fall band festival at Homestead High School, whose boosters helped coordinate truckloads of relief after a tornado smashed Henryville High School on March 2.
“So today is our way of saying thank you to them, but our show is the tornado,” said Henryville band director Shanna Ledbetter. She explained the show's chronology, from the day of the storm until school resumed in August. “We start out with a nice day, storm coming, destruction, the rebuilding, it is well, coming back to school Aug. 7, and in the end, it will say we're home, thank you.”
Band members hoisted signs marking those milestones as they marched their way to second place among six small-school bands at the Homestead Fall Festival of Bands.
Ledbetter said Homestead band director Steve Barber was instrumental in the relief for Henryville. Barber, who began his career at that southern Indiana school, is in his 26th year at Homestead.
“The week after the tornado, he and some of his boosters came down to bring us a trailer full of percussion instruments, so that we could finish our winter percussion season, and in so doing brought two checks, one to the band and one to the school.”
Ledbetter said the tornado caused 60 percent damage to the school.
Other high schools, corporate donors, and even a Grammy-winning band helped Henryville students. Lady Antebellum presented a mini-prom especially for the students, and raised an estimated $235,000 through a charity concert in nearby Louisville, Ky.
“After the tornado hit, everybody just came together,” said Bill Maloney, Henryville's band booster president. “The support we got from those outside our community was just overwhelming.”
On Saturday, band boosters drove a new equipment truck to Fort Wayne. “The truck is new. We paid for it last Friday, paid in full,” Maloney said. “So we're doing good.”
Barber said the band equipment was a loan from Southwest Allen County Schools. Band boosters also accepted donations from the Fort Wayne area, and delivered the aid to Henryville. “We took a semitruck with a 20-foot trailer with food and personal items,” he said.
Homestead band booster Heidi Reimer also emphasized the community's role in the aid to Henryville. “It's not just Homestead parents. We had great support from the whole Fort Wayne area,” she said. “It was our semi, our trailer, but Fort Wayne supported it.”
As for the students, Maloney said the recovery process continues. “It's not a hundred percent, but they're going strong every day,” he said.
“It's a learning experience for them,” he said. “The friendships they've gotten through all their years they've been in band is something they can carry with them forever.”
Barber, whose school was host to the Saturday festival, said competition was at a high level in all four classes.
The Marching Kingsmen of Mishawaka Penn High School took first place among Class A bands, and claimed the grand champion trophy for the highest score in any class.
“It has quite a tradition to it,” Barber said of the traveling trophy, which has the winner's name engraved each year.
“Penn always has a fine band,” Barber said.
Homestead, as host band, sought judges' ratings but did not compete for awards.
After competing at Homestead late Saturday afternoon, Snider High School's band rushed to march in exhibition at their own festival that evening.
“The kids have been working hard all week and actually all year, so they've developed quite a bit of stamina,” Snider band director Kevin Klee said. “We're really excited to have a chance to go on to Wayne High School to our own Snider Panther Parade of Champions competition. That will be very exciting for the kids.
“They won't be competing because they're the host band, but we really want to want to put on a great show for all the fans and the other bands that are there,” Klee said.
Like other bands, Snider continued fine-tuning its show even after the district competition.
“We really like the show. We think it's coming together very well,” Klee said. “The kids are working very hard. We know there will be lots of tough, stiff competition at the semistate level, but we're really looking forward to meeting that challenge and we hope to earn ourselves a place in state finals this year.”
Northern Indiana bands in Class A and Class C will compete at the Lafayette Jefferson High School regional. Bands in Class B and Class D will compete at Chesterton High School. The semistate contests will be held in central Indiana on Oct. 27. Ten schools in each of four classes will compete Nov. 3 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
The Henryville band continues competition Saturday, in Class D of the Evansville regional of the Indiana School Music Association. Maloney said the band's most recent trip to the semistate contest was 24 years ago, but he said Henryville is going all the way to state this year.