"A" or not to "A"; That is the Question

Editorial: Perform in your chosen classification at all times

The question has been batted around for a few years here at the US Scholastic Band Association… “Why do we support an “A” class at large events and NOT at the local hosted shows?”

Indeed, the USSBA was founded and still today, holds as one of the great truths of the association - bands should compete with like bands! We make no judgment on program, on leadership, on fiscal ability but instead, we simply work to align bands based on size and performance ability.

So, why force bands into situations where there is no real competitive possibility? Well, we did it because some of the shows are small, the cost of trophies is extensive, and that’s the way it has been done! That said, there has always been discomfort. Why should band A be in a position to lose by 20 points when they know they are not of the caliber of the other school? Seems crazy? Seems like it would be like a high school basketball team taking on the colleges in the area three of four times, only to lose by 50? Why? Does it build intestinal fortitude? We think not.

So, we are making this change, and asking bands to participate in their chosen level of classification at all times.  By doing this, we create an educational environment that has a level of consistency. The band in question need not explain to their classmates why there competitive results were so disappointing one week and positive the next. And as we have learned, the students will understand any of our scoring idiosyncrasies if explained, but the homeroom students, the parents, and the principal - they do not take the time; rather, they hear what they hear. This is why we use a scholastic system. This is why we create a scoring continuum that is consistent with one utilized in an academic environment.

The negative? Well, a 1 A band in a small show may have no competition. But then, we ask, what is the point of the programs we teach? To win? Or to create performance opportunities? For those who insist on playing the game, one can always compare scores. But, let’s give awards, and recognition based on like comparisons. Let’s not toss programs that need not be compared into a comparative environment one week and then NOT the next. Let’s put the kids and directors first and we can work out our administrative issues.

As the director of The Cadets, I am fortunate to have at hand, a great group of students. There are times, when we travel, where we are the only “top” corps in a show. We have been in situations where for weeks at a time, we are winning shows by 20 points. Now, why do that? The score means nothing to us, and yet, for the guys in second, they clearly were the best of their class; they are of quality. But, they might be younger, not tour as often, or simply not have the experience. But, that is what we did. And it seemed foolish.

High school is a different deal but, the lessons learned stick with some of us. We want to create a program that allows you to feel good about your program and your students. Marching band and music programs in general teach life development skills. How to cooperate, discipline, self control, how to win, how to lose, teamwork, work ethic, and much, much more!  It is an incredible opportunity to affect young folks for years and years, AND, we hope, this change will make the process just a little better.

Speaking personally, I have been the director of the Cadets since 1983! I receive many letters from former students and not once, NOT ONCE, has someone wrote, “Thanks for the championship.”  But they do write to say thanks for the lessons, for giving them a gentle “kick in the butt,” for the experience of performance, and for the opportunity to find out who they were in the world.

For you band directors, the same scenario will, or already does, play out.

So, this change is in line with the goals of the USSBA. We want to assist you. We want to support your students. We want to be all we can be, and we will keep on improving, and keep on working … until we get it right. And, as I have learned, you never actually get it RIGHT! There are always more steps to be taken.

We hope this is a step. We believe it makes a difference.

Please write to me at hopkins@yea.org if you have ideas or thoughts.

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