INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.—More than 25,000 spectators and musicians are in Indianapolis this weekend for the Music for All’s Bands of America Grand National Championships.
Some describe it as the pinnacle of high school scholastic marching band competitions, with teams from across the country, as far as Hawaii, vying for the top title.
Preliminary competition begins Thursday morning will whittle 100 down teams to just a few dozen competing in Saturday’s semi-finals. The 12 finalists will be selected Saturday night and compete Saturday evening.
“It really is literally its name. Grand Nationals is the most prominent marching band competition in America for scholastic musicians,” said Eric Martin, CEO of Music for All/Bands of America.
Out of 100 teams, 12 are from the Hoosier state and seven are from Central Indiana: Lawrence Township, Columbus North, Avon, Center Grove, Carmel, Martinsville and Fishers High Schools.
While some of these Central Indiana teams are returning to Grand Nationals, for others, 2017 will be a debut performance.
“It’s a huge deal,” said Chad Kohler, Director of Athletic Bands at Fishers High School. Fishers’ Tiger Band has slowly climbed its way up over the past ten years and will compete at Grand Nationals for the first time.
“This is the Mecca and all around the belt of I-465, the programs here are some of the strongest in the country,” Kohler added.
The Fishers Tiger Band practices three hours a day, four days a week in anticipation of the competition. There are now 245 student members of the marching band, and four to five layers to their performance.
“There’s a little bit of nerve going on in there, especially for the senior class,” said Fishers High School senior and marching band section leader, Tommy Endicott, “we know that we are setting the legacy for what this is going to be for all the years to come.”
Lia Benvenutti, a Fishers High School senior and marching band drum major says the band’s qualification for Grand Nationals was a big accomplishment.
“Since our school has never been, I think we’re expecting it to be a lot bigger and a lot more people, more bands, and probably a lot more hectic,” Benvenutti added.
Amid the music and excitement at this year’s Grand Nationals there’s a somber reminder of the loss of a dedicated member of the marching band community.
Sophie Rinehart, 17, performed with the Castle High School marching band, singing and leading the performance on the turf of Lucas Oil Stadium and captivating the audience. Hours after the competition concluded, she and two of her family members were killed by a drunk driver on their way home to Newburgh, Indiana.
Authorities say the Rinehart family pulled over after hitting a deer on I-69 in Greene County. At some point, a driver crashed into their family car, killing Sophie, her father and grandmother, as well as injuring Sophie’s sister.
A few days after the crash, then 19-year-old Mason Hartke turned himself into police. Just as the 2017 Grand National Championship kicked off on Wed. November 8th, Hartke pleaded guilty in Green County Court to three counts of operating a vehicle while intoxicated causing death.
A judge sentenced Hartke to 15 years in prison.
This year’s Grand National Championship will pay tribute to Sophie Rinehart and her family with special remarks in the program, and a video on the big screens inside Lucas Oil Stadium.
Music For All started the "Sophie Fund" to help further music education in southern Indiana where Sophie Rinehart first developed her love of music.