Whenever they take the field at the end of a contest, waiting alongside the other bands to hear the results, Coweta Tiger Pride members have a simple way of showing their bond.
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They join hands.
It’s one of the things, senior Kolby Cardwell has noticed, that sets them apart.
“Other bands usually stand with their arms at their sides,” said Cardwell, a clarinet player. “But we hold hands — because we are a family.”
That “family” mindset is a big reason, he added, that the Coweta marching band’s run of success has reached even greater heights this season.
In September, Tiger Pride earned a signature win for the program when it finished first at the Bands of America Regional Finals in Flagstaff, Arizona.
It will look to continue the momentum this Saturday, when it shoots for a 10th consecutive State 5A Marching Championship in Mustang.
Fresh off last week’s homecoming performance and busy preparing for Saturday, band members talked to the Tulsa World this week about this milestone season and why there’s no better place for a small-town marching band to be than Coweta.
The Arizona win was Coweta’s first in a Bands of America regional contest, in which it competes every other year.
It made the finals for the first time at its last BOA event — two years ago in Atlanta. Still, to pull off the win this year was unexpected, band officials said.
Coweta was one of the smaller schools in the contest, with a band of around 150 members. The runner-up band, from Nevada, was twice its size.
For the Tiger Pride, the result was just more proof that hard work — combined with the love and support of a community — can “pay off in a big way,” said Band Director Chris Koehn.
“That is always one of my favorite things — to see all the time and commitment that they put into it, everybody working together, and it paying off like this,” said Koehn, whose wife, Heather, junior band director, is the annual Tiger Pride show’s creative director.
Senior drum major Amber Rosemond said the band doesn’t mind being cast in the “little guy” role.
“It’s definitely motivation for us,” she said of taking on larger bands like those at the regional finals.
She and other band members recalled how the suspense mounted at the Arizona event.
As the final places were announced, counting down from 10th to first, they were sure after each they were next.
But when it didn’t come, they clasped each other’s hands more tightly, anticipation rising.
Finally, with second place settled, they knew only one option remained.
Junior Ian Brennan, a color guard member, remembers turning at that moment, when they realized they had won, and seeing “that literally every single guard girl right behind me was already crying. But we had to maintain that smile.”
The official word followed a few moments later, and then the flood of emotion released.
$38,000 in an hour and a half
Koehn, who’s been with the program since 2008, starting as assistant band director, said volunteers and donors deserve a lot of credit for its success.
He said the support — starting with dedicated band parents but extending to the community at large — has been “incredible.”
“We wouldn’t be as successful as we are for sure” without it, he said.
One of the grandest gestures came a few weeks ago, with the booster club’s annual pie auction.
Held in conjunction with the town’s Fall Festival in September, this year’s raised a record $38,000 in an hour and a half.
“It was twice as big as the usual amount,” Koehn said. “It’s a big deal anyway, but this was phenomenal. … It took a lot of the pressure off” in helping cover costs of the Arizona trip.
The band also enjoys the support of individuals, businesses and churches, who step up to meet various needs, Koehn said.
And don’t forget the voters, he added, who came out to support the bond package that built the new band building in 2016.
“That was big,” Koehn said. “We’d completely outgrown our old facility.”
This Saturday at Mustang marks the marching band’s last major performance of the season.
Pride members are primed to make it their best yet.
This year’s show, titled “Canyon’s Edge,” features Heather Koehn’s original work along with a mix of Lady Gaga, Radiohead and TLC, topped off with a “Climb Every Mountain” finale.
Since the first public performance in August, “watching the progression of it has been rewarding,” Chris Koehn said.
The busyness of marching season has left little opportunity to stop and think. But for seniors, the reality of what this Saturday means has begun to sink in.
Logan Dillon, alto sax player, said, “So many times during the season I’m so ready to get done with this. But then you realize you’re about to hang up your uniform and not pick it up again.”
“I think what’s hitting me the hardest,” added senior baritonist Ray Lenhart, “is I’ll go on to do band in college, but I’ll never find a program like Coweta where we have the support we do. You won’t find that connection again.”
“I don’t think there’s any town our size that just gives their band $38,000 at a fundraiser,” he said.
But while there are no more “next years” for seniors, Rosemond says they won’t approach Saturday any differently.
“I think what we all want the most,” she said, “is not so much to win state. We just want our best show. One last time.”