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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.

MELISSA LYTTLE | Times

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]
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