BROOKSVILLE — Springstead High School's marching band has long been recognized as one of the best in Florida, routinely finishing at or near the top of its class in competitions.
Now, the band's longtime director is getting a bit of recognition of his own.
Rick Dasher was recently named by School Band & Orchestra, an industry trade publication, as one of 50 instrumental music directors across the country who "make a difference."
One director was selected from each state. It was the first time in the distinction's 16-year history that Florida's representative was from Hernando County.
Dasher was touched that someone thought of and nominated him for the honor.
"It's nice," he said. "It makes me feel really good."
But he quickly added: "Every music teacher in Florida worth his salt is making a difference in what they do."
Dasher, 57, has been at Springstead for 25 years. He has taught for 29.
Aside from the marching band, he leads the school's concert band, jazz band, orchestra and percussion ensemble — roughly 135 students in all. He also teaches music theory and Advanced Placement music theory.
Springstead's marching band, the Eagle Brigade, has been among the top five state finalists in the 2A division for the past decade, Dasher said. In 2012, the band won the 2A division at the Florida Marching Band Championships in St. Petersburg, the first time a band from Hernando had won a state championship, he said.
Nina Morales, a four-year Springstead orchestra member, said Dasher is a conductor who is dedicated, passionate, perceptive, helps students grow and believes in music.
"He's really good at encouraging students to love music," Morales said. "The sense of dedication he brings to it is pretty obvious throughout all of the ensembles."
Morales, a talented violinist who hopes to pursue music in college, said Dasher has given her a number of opportunities to enter competitions and participate in orchestras beyond Hernando County.
"He's been so supportive of me as a musician," she said. "I've been able to grow and pursue all of these things I might not have been aware of."
Springstead principal Susan Duval said Dasher has taken the program to new heights every year. Even when a large number of seniors graduate, she said, he always manages to build it back up.
"He's an incredible musician," Duval said.
Dasher said his primary area of interest is jazz, but that he devotes all of his attention to whatever ensemble he's with at the moment.
Beyond the classroom, Dasher is a staunch proponent of the performing arts, and he quickly bemoans the lack of commitment to them in many schools.
"When I got to the school in 1989, there was a chorus teacher at every high school. A band teacher," he said. "It was unthinkable that there wouldn't be."
That's no longer the case.
Some high schools lack a band or a chorus, while others hire a teacher to run both. He said it is even worse at the middle school level. And no band in middle school eventually means no band in high school, Dasher said.
"(At Springstead) we have chorus, band, theater and art teachers," he said. "That's pretty good. That's the way it should be."
He said he has also seen an impact on his budget as school district finances have gotten tighter over the years.
"When I got to Springstead, I was getting two and three times as much money to spend on my program," he said. "It's gone from most of my expenses being paid by the school system to where it's a very small portion."
The difference is made up by fundraising efforts.
Duval said Springstead made a commitment 10 years ago to maintain its fine arts program to a greater extent than other schools.
"The fine arts programs are incredibly important to a lot of students," she said. "It's what makes a school very strong and very successful."
Danny Valentine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1432. Follow @HernandoTimes on Twitter.