After the best finish in school history last year, the Tarpon Springs High School marching band returned to a national competition this year and placed first in its size division and sixth overall.
The finish was slightly lower than last year, when the band was first in its division and third overall at the Bands of America contest. But band director Kevin Ford said that isn't an indication of the quality of the performance.
"This band was much stronger than last year's band," he said. "So was the competition."
Dozens of parents and principal John Nicely attended the competition in Indianapolis over the weekend, the last contest of the year for the marching band. Tarpon Springs was the only Florida school that qualified to attend, after winning regional competitions in Orlando and Atlanta earlier this year.
The 110-member band competed against 88 other bands during the three-day competition. Ford said some of the bands that finished the highest this year did not compete last year and made the competition tougher.
The band's performance was called "Life is a Journey" and included the John Adams song Short Ride in a Fast Machine, music from the movie The Perfect Storm and Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings.
Enlarged pictures of Albert Einstein, Tiananmen Square, John F. Kennedy Jr. and the Columbine school shootings were used to illustrate the themes of the different songs, which included salutes to inventors and entertainers as well as references to tragedies, Ford said. The pictures were on large boards, and on the reverse sides were the letters spelling out "Life is a Journey."
"There was never a piece that we just played," he said. "Everything was juxtaposed with something else."
The band raised money through donations, tag sales, working at golf tournaments and by selling advertisements for the school's football program, Ford said. Students had to pay for their hotel rooms and the divided cost of the buses.
Nicely said he was extremely proud of the students for competing so well against schools that have more resources. One of the top bands, he said, has its own indoor practice facility, and many of the schools are considerably larger than Tarpon Springs High.
"I thought their final performance was the best I've ever seen. . . . The people in the stands just loved the show," Nicely said of the Tarpon Springs band. "It's like being at the Olympics; you're competing against the very best in the nation."
_ Staff writer Katherine Gazella can be reached at 445-4182 or gazellasptimes.com.