Dallas-Fort Worth marching band kids outwit Mother Nature in this slip-and-slide season

Dallas-Fort Worth marching band kids outwit Mother Nature in this slip-and-slide season Filed under Commentary at Get Daily Dallas News Headlines Sign Up Get Unlimited Digital Access Your first month is less than a dollar. $0.99 for first 4 weeks Subscribe Now
What did band kids — so often the best and biggest-hearted on any school campus — do to rile up the rain gods this marching season?
While the unrelenting rainfall has made high school football games miserable, the toll it’s taken on bands — a string of canceled halftime performances and countless weekday practices — is unprecedented in North Texas.
Band directors have never seen anything like this. Perhaps one halftime is rained out every couple of years; this season, bands have missed more than half of their performances due to unsafe conditions.
And the crescendo of the fall semester for marching bands, this week’s UIL regional marching contests, has come amid more rainfall.
So if you want to see grit, take a good look at your local high school band.
Football and its equipment are designed to endure such miserable weather. It might not be pretty, but it’s playable. Not so for bands, with their fragile woodwinds, thousands of dollars in electronics equipment and uniforms that can’t stand up to monsoons. From worst to first, this Dallas high school band takes on rich suburban rivals — and excels
I’d be in awe of these teens’ abilities even under perfect conditions. The youngest of them picked up an instrument for the first time only a year or two ago. Just a few months into the school year, they are expected to make beautiful music while executing intricate steps and crazy dance moves, all with a Yankee Doodle-plumed contraption on their heads.
It makes me dizzy just thinking about it.
Now add the challenges of this slip-and-slide season: Predawn shovel patrol to clear mud off parking lots. Unscripted maneuvers to dodge ankle-deep puddles. Practice fields that have dissolved into pigpen muck. Scaled-back practices in school cafeterias or bus barns.
And those performances that make the months of behind-the-scenes work worthwhile? Almost every local band has made long trips to away games only to never get off the bus. Or stood in a stadium tunnel, seconds away from the downbeat, when lightning flashed and the festival competition was called off.
Sandy McGuire, whose son is a senior in the Plano West High School band, said the mostly washed-out season has been heart-aching. “Band events help bind our community together, so this is a loss for everyone.” Red Oak Mighty Hawk Band color guard members, practicing in the parking lot, were reflected in a puddle before performing in the UIL competition Thursday. (Nathan Hunsinger/Staff Photographer)
But I came away from interviews with band directors, students and parents convinced that the lessons learned in this most unusual of football seasons matter a lot more than final UIL scores or even how many times the musicians performed at halftime.
Steven Moss, in his fifth year directing the Red Oak Mighty Hawk Band, talked about how his 220-member squad responded when it endured a soaking last weekend: “It rains, and we figure it out, time after time, day after day.”
No, the year hasn’t progressed without complaint or concern. Moss said kids are champing at the bit to perform in front of their families, friends, teachers — and especially the band across the field.
But Moss is most proud of his squad for keeping perspective and says the disappointments have brought the students closer together, especially as the more experienced members support the younger ones. Even as Mother Nature matches them step for step, the kids work even harder to march as one. Does McKinney’s fancy new high school football stadium dim Friday Night Lights?
It’s the same story for Highland Park’s Highlander Band, which has shown how good the young musicians can be despite the crummy weather.
Senior drum major Emma Brunk laughed as she told me, “We had fallen into this routine of doing the same things every year. The rain has mixed things up for us and kept us on our toes.”
Band members know they are lucky that the school’s indoor practice facility has allowed them to slip in for some of their practices. But dragging equipment through the rain and mud has provided plenty of team-building opportunities.
As fellow drum major Cameron Poe, also a senior, explained how the band has persevered through the rain, his words also reflected what makes band kids special. “The energy and drive doesn’t come from the top down, not from band directors to the kids, but rather it starts with the kids, with their dedication and work ethic.” The Red Oak Mighty Hawk Band prepares to take the field in UIL competition. (Nathan Hunsinger/Staff Photographer)
Band directors I interviewed and watched through practices and competition seemed to take a “stay calm and march when you can” attitude.
Reagan Brumley, in his eighth year as Highlander Band director, says a band’s sheer size makes it a different animal. But he threw the credit back to his resilient kids: “A student willing to display the patience required to help make a team the size of a marching band work — with 150 different personalities and quirks — I think is at heart different from most of the rest of us.”
Chris Evetts, director of the Wildcat Band at Woodrow Wilson High School in Dallas, lightens what has been a stressful season with a big sense of humor. After rain forced the cancellation of yet another consecutive day of outdoor practice this week just before UIL competition, he wrote, “Thanks to the rain for setting a good example for my band members — arrived 20 minutes before rehearsal just like our daily procedure says to.”
Red Oak, Highland Park and Woodrow marched Thursday through a sharp wind and occasional spitting rain. All three received a Division 1 rating. Maybe learning to keep one’s balance on slick grass and mud wasn’t the worst thing after all. The Red Oak Mighty Hawk Band waited next to freshly mowed, muddy grass before performing in the UIL competition at John Kinkaide Stadium on Thursday. (Nathan Hunsinger/Staff Photographer)

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The American Legion Is Asking The Supreme Court To Protect A Cross-Shaped War Memorial

The American Legion Is Asking The Supreme Court To Protect A Cross-Shaped War Memorial 9:39 PM 10/18/2018 | Politics Kevin Daley | Supreme Court Reporter The American Legion and a Maryland planning commission are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to protect a cross-shaped World War I memorial, after the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found the monument violates the Constitution.
Supporters of the petition say the 4th Circuit’s decision compromises war memorials across the country, including those at Arlington National Cemetery. Should the high court take the case, it would likely mark the new conservative majority’s first foray into the culture wars.
The American Legion erected a 40-foot tall memorial called the “Peace Cross” in Bladensburg, Maryland, in 1925. A plaque at the base of the monument lists the 49 war dead of Prince George’s County and a quotation from President Woodrow Wilson. The crux of the cross is emblazoned with the seal of the Legion, and the words “valor, endurance, courage, and devotion” appear on each face.
In the years following its installation, other memorials to county veterans were raised in the Peace Cross’s vicinity. That collection of statuary has since been designated Veterans Memorial Park.
The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission has administered the Peace Cross since 1961, when it was acquired from the Legion.
Three Maryland residents represented by the American Humanist Association (AHA) sued the commission in 2014, arguing the monument runs afoul of the First Amendment’s ban on religious favoritism. The Legion intervened and entered the dispute as co-defendants.
Though a federal trial judge found for the commission, a three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit reversed , finding the Peace Cross impermissibly endorses Christianity.
“One simply cannot ignore the fact that for thousands of years the Latin cross has represented Christianity,” Judge Stephanie Thacker wrote for the majority. “Even in the memorial context, a Latin cross serves not simply as a generic symbol of death, but rather a Christian symbol of the death of Jesus Christ.”
The panel also ruled that public funds expended on the memorial’s maintenance excessively entangled the government with religion. The Maryland commission has set aside upwards of $200,000 to conserve the monument. In its brief opposing review to the Supreme Court, the AHA argued such appropriations effectively use taxpayer dollars to curate a Christian symbol.
The full 4th Circuit declined to rehear the case on an 8-to-6 vote, prompting a dissent from Judge Paul Niemeyer, who warned the decision imperils similar monuments within their jurisdiction, including those at Arlington National Cemetery. (RELATED: Anger Recedes As Normalcy, Humor Mark Kavanaugh’s First Day On The Bench)
“It needlessly puts at risk hundreds of monuments with similar symbols standing on public grounds across the country, such as those in nearby Arlington National Cemetery, where crosses of comparable size stand in commemoration of fallen soldiers,” Niemeyer wrote.
Thacker distinguishes the Arlington crosses from the Bladensburg memorial in her majority opinion, though the commission warns her distinctions are “empty” in its petition.
Arlington National Cemetery features two Latin large crosses: the Argonne Cross in section 18 commemorates American military personnel who died in France during the First World War. The other is the Canadian Cross, which honors the shared sacrifice of U.S. and Canadian fighting men. Canadian Crosses of identical design appear in battlefield cemeteries around the world.
Members of the United States Military Order of the Cootie, ‘The Honor Degree of the Veterans of Foreign Wars,’ place approximately 250 wreaths at the Argonne Cross in Section 18 of Arlington National Cemetery, Oct. 30, 2016. The MOC was founded in 1920 and has made a visit to Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, known as ‘Tomb Trek,’ each year since 1934. (U.S. Army photo by Rachel Larue/Arlington National Cemetery)
The commission says the Supreme Court’s intervention is needed to preserve statuary like the Peace Cross and bring clarity to an area of First Amendment law which has deeply divided appeals courts. The justices are more likely to take cases that divide federal courts over the same question of law.
Appeals courts in Denver and San Francisco “have adopted what amounts to a virtual per se prohibition on the use of crosses as symbols of commemoration,” the commission wrote in its petition. As a judge on the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Justice Neil Gorsuch participated in one such case, joining a dissent after the court decided a cross-shaped monument to slain officers of the Utah Highway patrol was unconstitutional.
In contrast, the 2nd and 5th U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal allow memorial crosses, provided that they convey a non-sectarian message.
The circuits appear divided on several points, including the relevance of a monument’s history, which factors to use when assessing public reaction to religious imagery, and whether a cross can ever serve as a secular memorial. In response, the AHA argues these divisions are overstated or non-existent and do not require the Supreme Court’s guidance.
Judges often use the reasonable observer test to determine whether government action constitutes an endorsement of religion. The test asks if an informed onlooker would detect religious bias in laws, policies or public displays.
Where monuments are concerned, courts assess how the context and purpose of religious symbolism shapes the observer’s perception. In a foundational 1984 case, the Supreme Court allowed city officials in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, to display a nativity creche during the Christmas season, as it was a passive fixture that appeared among other seasonal decorations and served broadly secular goals like marking the origin of a federal holiday.
In another case from 2005, the high court extended protection to a sculpture of the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the Texas state house. There the justices said the Commandments are deeply interwoven with the history and tradition of the country. As in the creche case, the Court said the mere presence of religious content in public settings does not violate the Constitution.
The religious display cases do not always track the Court’s ideological divide. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor joined three liberals in dissent in the Commandments case, while Justice Stephen Breyer joined the conservative majority as to the result.
In a separate opinion, Breyer noted the sculpture was situated among other statuary in a space that does not accommodate religious activity, stood for decades without objection, and clearly indicated that it was donated by a secular group.
The Ten Commandments statue on the grounds of the Texas State House. (Credit: Wally Gobetz, accessed via Flickr creative commons)
The Maryland commission sees the Bladensburg Peace Cross as analogous to the creche and Commandments cases, as it was first raised by the American Legion, stood unchallenged for almost a century among other war memorials, and serves primarily to remember the honored dead.
The AHA counters that the monument dominates its surroundings — standing alone in the middle of the county’s busiest thoroughfare — and is not inclusive to veterans of other faiths, despite the presence of large Jewish communities in Maryland and Washington, D.C.
The plaintiffs say the memorial could easily be modified or moved to avoid First Amendment problems. (RELATED: Supreme Court Weighs Trump Administration’s Power To Detain Criminal Migrants)
The Court received the petition on July 3. The case has been “relisted” several times. This could be a sign that the justices are carefully considering the petition, or it could indicate that a justice is drafting a dissent from the Court’s refusal to review the 4th Circuit’s ruling. A decision as to whether the case will be heard could come as soon as Oct. 29.
A coalition of retired generals and flag officers led by Reagan-era Attorney General Edwin Meese filed an amicus (or “friend-of-the-court”) brief urging the justices to take the case and preserve the Peace Cross. The coalition notes Congress has approved the acquisition of cross-shaped veterans memorials by overwhelming vote, and incorporated religious imagery into military medals and commendations.
The main thrust of their argument, however, casts the Peace Cross as the natural successor to thousands of battlefield grave markers around the world. In the midst of war, plain, makeshift crosses are often erected over the burial plots of the dead, regardless of the deceased’s religious convictions.
The Peace Cross, they say, thus evokes distant battlefield cemeteries of the sort described in John McCrae’s poem “In Flanders Fields,” cited repeatedly in the commission’s brief: “In Flanders Fields the poppies blow, between the crosses row on row.”
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