Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Marching bands rock the Trop

The 120-member Seminole High School Warhawk Marching Band and color guard perform a medley Saturday at the Florida Marching Band Championships at Tropicana Field.


The 120-member Seminole High School Warhawk Marching Band and color guard perform a medley Saturday at the Florida Marching Band Championships at Tropicana Field.

ST. PETERSBURG — Jon Kersten called out his orders from the hospital bed.

It was October 2010, and the Florida Marching Band Championships that he and his wife Cathy started more than a decade ago were nearing.

"Don't forget to do this and you gotta do that and make sure you have this done," his wife said, imitating her husband, waving her hands in the air.

He was terminal, suffering from advanced colon cancer.

But, still, he couldn't get his mind off marching bands.

"It was his passion," Cathy Kersten said.

Jon Kersten died on Oct. 28, 2010, three weeks before the tournament. She pushed on.

Now Cathy Kersten is in charge, organizing this year's tournament for the first time without her husband of 38 years.

On Saturday, she honored his legacy by putting together the largest Florida tournament since the event's inception in 1998.

More than 8,000 high school band members from 97 bands around the state descended on Tampa Bay this weekend. Another 10,000 or so spectators filled the stands throughout the day, she estimated.

Obviously, it's no easy task.

Bands of all sizes, lugging instruments, props and uniforms, spread out to four different locations, including the central hub at Tropicana Field.

They had practiced hundreds of hours, often raising thousands of dollars to travel to St. Petersburg for the big day — a chance to become one of five state champions. One champion for each class.

The performances are elaborately choreographed, a fusion of music, dancing, flag waving and marching.

Almost as elaborate is the task of keeping all those bands on schedule. Performances are planned down to the minute.

"If they go over their time limit, they get penalized," Kersten said. Each team gets 14 minutes to get on the field, set up, perform and get off.

For her, it's a family affair.

Her son, three daughters and three granddaughters all work various aspects of the competition. Kersten even enlists her friends.

Many of those who come for the day lauded the tournament and how it is run.

"You couldn't ask for a better place," said Coty Windham, a band parent at Leesburg High School in Lake County, who watched his band perform at the Trop. "It's not like walking onto a football field."

Shelly Fuller, who has two kids playing in the Winter Park High School band, the "Sound of the Wildcats," said the weekend competition is a focal point for the year.

"It was amazing to have them walk out on the field and see how proud they were of everything they've accomplished," she said.

Those are the kind of moments that makes all the hard work worth it for Kersten. One of her daughters, Sandie Rosenblatt, said she loves watching the bands in retreat — when they're all lined up on the field. She knows her dad did the same thing.

Still, it's not easy without the man who started it all.

"The hardest thing for me," Kersten said, "was when I had to send emails that said I was the executive director. I don't want to be the executive director. He's the executive director."

Marching bands rock the Trop 11/19/11 [Last modified: Saturday, November 19, 2011 10:08pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. 'Empire' star Grace Byers keynotes USF Women in Leadership & Philanthropy luncheon

    Human Interest


    TAMPA — The first University of South Florida graduate to address the USF's Women in Leadership & Philanthropy supporters, Grace Gealey Byers, class of 2006, centered her speech on her first name, turning it into a verb to share life lessons.

    Grace Byers, University of South Florida Class of 2006, stars on the Fox television show Empire. She delivered the keynote at the USF Women in Leadership and Philanthropy luncheon Friday. Photo by Amy Scherzer
  2. Southeast Seminole Heights holds candlelight vigil for victims' families and each other


    TAMPA — They came together in solidarity in Southeast Seminole Heights, to sustain three families in their grief and to confront fear, at a candlelight vigil held Sunday night in the central Tampa neighborhood.

    A peaceful march that began on east New Orleans Avenue was held during the candlelight vigil for the three victims who were killed in the recent shootings in the Seminole Heights neighborhood in Tampa on Sunday, October 22, 2017.
  3. It's not just Puerto Rico: FEMA bogs down in Florida, Texas too

    HOUSTON — Outside Rachel Roberts' house, a skeleton sits on a chair next to the driveway, a skeleton child on its lap, an empty cup in its hand and a sign at its feet that reads "Waiting on FEMA."

    Ernestino Leon sits among the debris removed from his family’s flood-damaged Bonita Springs home on Oct. 11. He has waited five weeks for FEMA to provide $10,000 to repair the home.
  4. McConnell says he's awaiting Trump guidance on health care

    STERLING, Va. — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday he's willing to bring bipartisan health care legislation to the floor if President Donald Trump makes clear he supports it.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he’s “not certain yet” on what Trump wants.
  5. Tampa's Lance McCullers shows killer instinct in pitching Astros to World Series


    HOUSTON — It felt like the beginning on Saturday night at Minute Maid Park, the arrival of a new force on the World Series stage. The Astros are back, for the first time in a dozen years, and they want to stay a while.

    Houston Astros starting pitcher Lance McCullers (43) throwing in the fifth inning of the game between the Houston Astros and the Tampa Bay Rays in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Sunday, July 12, 2015.