'A' Class and Open are now part of every competition

Hopkins Editorial: A look into the USSBA philosophy


For those who may not know, I write to you as the CEO of Youth Education in the Arts and well, I would say the unofficial protector of the underlying values that drive all we do here at YEA! – The Cadets, the US Scholastic Band Association, and the Urban Arts Center of the Lehigh Valley.

In terms of the USSBA, there has been an important change that warrants attention and explanation.


For many years, at the larger Regional events and the Championship gatherings, the USSBA has promoted competition in classes. The reason – if we are to compete, we need to do the best we can to provide a reasonable comparison.

For this reason we first break the bands into classes based on the size of the band.

There is a truism that in many cases, larger bands have a programmatic advantage. A larger band can play louder, they can cover more of the field, they can use a variety of instruments and if managed well, it could be they have a greater potential to create effect. This is NOT ALWAYS TRUE! But … it is sometimes true.

Some programs break the groups into categories based on size of school. We do not do that.

Our place is not to pass judgment on a music program. We do not know why one band has 50 members and another may have 100. Although it makes sense that a larger school should have a larger band, and they indeed have more students available; but, there are so many variables. The past history, the band director, the feeder programs, fiscal stability … we can go on and on.

So, rather than assume that a large school should have a large band, we instead, judge what we see. We classify the bands into six groups based on the size of the band. 

Besides size, we also classify generally based on ability

In a 20 band show of Group 2 bands (55-74 performers); there can be quite a range of performance levels. Indeed, scores could range, for example, from a 70 to a 90.  Why? Well, staffing differences, the ability of the students, the rehearsal schedule allowed, the middle school music program, or the number of associate staff.

As much as we wish all bands to be wonderful, we acknowledge that there are differences. And we believe that the way to support a band on the road to “good” and then “great” is NOT to place the marching unit in a place where there is a loss of 20, 30 or 40 points.

Such is not a competition in the real sense of the word. Not at all!

That said … we created many years ago

  • The Open Class – for better performing bands
  • The A Class – for those bands who are capable of moderate performance levels as the program maintains and grows.

In the USSBA, of 800 bands, about 500 are A bands.

Beginning this season, we are maintaining A band Status at ALL SHOWS, not just the larger events.

Well, why we split the classes is clear above. It makes some sense and it seems to have worked over the years. If anything, we sometimes have challenges getting bands to move to OPEN CLASS.

But at the smaller local shows, we maintained a system where all bands competed against each other in one competition.

So … a band would NOT even compete against a neighboring program at the Regional event on a Saturday, and on Sunday, in a smaller event, they WOULD compete and band A could lose by 20 points?

Why would we be so inconsistent?

Why would we allow our values to be compromised as we allowed students and directors to potentially be humiliated or at least frustrated?

Well, the reasons had to do with

  • band parents having to purchase too many trophies
  • the need to have a competition
  • smaller shows of nine bands and 12 potential classes made all uncomfortable 

And yes, all of the above reasons are true and real. BUT, the care of the student should have been the driving force. A consistent approach to the care and judging of students and bands should have been the Association’s priority.

So, we have made the change.

Beginning in 2010, the A Class and the OPEN Class are operating at ALL USSBA shows. This may result in fewer groups competing “head to head” but, on the other hand, were they really competing anyway?  When a band chooses or is assigned “A” Class, or “Open” class, they are making a decision. We want to uphold and respect that decision at all times!

OPEN AND A CLASS is a product of the prior year

With so many bands, and the needs for bands to decide schedules months in advance, it would be difficult if not impossible to move bands from A to Open or Open to A as the season progresses. For that reason, the assignments are generally based on the outcomes and performance from the year prior.

There are exceptions and there are occasional alterations. BUT, for the most part, the year prior determines the class.

As to how one gets to one class or the other –

Frankly, in 2010 we have not been aggressive in insuring that those worthy move to OPEN CLASS. There are internal reasons we are handling for all things being equal, the best performing bands of an A class, SHOULD move to Open class most times. This is NOT ALWAYS the case, but it is a general rule.

We want to place bands in areas of equal performance abilities. We are not CONCERNED with who wins. This is not what we do. We are concerned however with those who ARE NOT CROWNED AS CHAMPIONS. We want to be sure they had a fair chance. We want to make sure an OPEN band is not participating in A class. We want to encourage directors to stretch and grow. We want to be a catalyst to greatness.

This hopefully clarifies our rationale for what we do and who we are. Although not all agree, the purpose of this coming series is to provide to directors, parents, teachers and even students, a “peek behind the curtain.”

Happy 2010 band season! Great luck to all!


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