Change in Wheelersburg High band sparks controversy

By Tom Corrigan

The Wheelersburg High School marching band at a comptition in 2015.

The Wheelersburg High School marching band at a comptition in 2015.

Announced July 19 at a reception designed to introduce the new band director, a decision to change the Wheelersburg High School Pirates marching band from a competition band to a strictly show band has proven controversial.

Wheelersburg School Superintendent Mark Knapp said the decision to alter the nature of the band was made after feedback from the community and district faculty members. The change became more or less solidified after the unexpected resignation of former band director Doug Espie. Knapp said Espie suddenly received the opportunity to work in a school closer to his original home and jumped at the chance. Knapp said the resignation came relatively shortly before the slated start of the high school band camp, now underway.

“We had to immediately start a search for a new bandleader,” Knapp said

Despite being in somewhat of a hurry to replace Espie, Knapp stated officials made a thorough search for their new band director. Ohio University graduate Joe Diamond eventually won the job following extensive interviews.

“He answered all our questions,” Knapp said, adding Wheelersburg is Diamond’s first full-time job though he has extensive substitution experience earned following his graduation from OU. Knapp also stated Diamond’s experience and background are in line with running a show band not a competition band. At this point, a reader might be wondering what the difference is.

According to Knapp, a competition band typically emphasizes music around a certain theme. They use props and a sort of road crew as well as somewhat nontraditional instruments such as electronic keyboards and bass guitars that are played from the sidelines. Knapp said the hope is the show band will emphasize more traditional instruments such as wind instruments, and doing away with, or at least greatly reducing, the use of any so-called road crew. Knapp noted this is the direction Diamond is moving the band, bringing back what the superintendent called school traditions such as performing the alma mater, which he added has not been performed in a while.

District officials told the Daily Times only the district superintendent is authorized by long-standing tradition to speak with the media. Knapp was asked if Diamond might be available for comment, but he did not reach out to the Daily Times.

In the meantime, numerous students, parents, Wheelersburg alumni and others have taken to social media to protest the change in the band. Several students have promised to quit the band in protest and indeed, Knapp stated some students have declined to show up for the band camp being held this week. He did not have exact numbers. Knapp did say the band usually numbers about 40 students.

“I’ve thought over and over what I’ve wanted to say,” wrote a student on a Facebook post. “What would be the right thing to say ? But to be completely honest there is no ‘right thing;’ there is only how I truly feel. The Wheelersburg High School Marching Band is no longer a competition band, we are a full time show band.”

The student stated in his post the other students attended a district board meeting and tried to make the case to keep the marching band a competition band.

“But those pleas were blatantly ignored, ” he said.

The student then announced plans to quit the band.

Complaints about the change in Wheelersburg have even surfaced from alumni of school bands who competed against the Pirates.

“Marching band has always been a huge part of my life, literally was the only thing that got me through high school,” wrote Kaitlyn Bell in yet another Facebook post. The West High alum described the changes in Wheelersburg as “not right…. not fair.”

“I am saddened, sickened, and disappointed in the events that have unfolded in the last 27 hours concerning our Wheelersburg Marching Band,” wrote parent Rachele Lawson Strickland on July 24. “After Mr. Espie resigned, the (Board of Education) and/or school administration took it upon themselves to hire a SHOW marching band director. Most of the area schools are competition bands. Why is this being taken away from our kids without their input?”

“I can’t help but ask the question, ‘Why?’ Why prevent a group of highly motivated students from competing? Being in a competitive marching band teaches students team work, how to set and make goals,” wrote Wheelersburg band alum Mary Martin

A member of the school community, Eric Kephas has two family members who quit the band in protest over the change to a show band. One student was described as a high school senior and the former leader of his band section. Kephas said a common argument among band supporters is the group could be a show band as well as a competition band.

“Change is difficult,” Knapp said in conclusion. “I’m not surprised by the reaction from adults and students.” He contends one type of band is not “better than the other.”

“Let’s just say they’re different,” Knapp continued, adding he hopes any missing band members will give Diamond a chance and return to the fold, stating they would be welcomed.

The Wheelersburg High School marching band at a comptition in 2015. Wheelersburg High School marching band at a comptition in 2015.

By Tom Corrigan