High school rivals unite in a Lansing marching band

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When Everett High School’s marching band takes the Eastern High School football field Thursday (Sept. 2) for a varsity showdown between the Everett Vikings and the Eastern Quakers, it won’t just be Everett students performing on the sidelines to inspire their gridiron players to victory. This year, Everett’s marching band also features a handful of students who have joined its ranks from J.W. Sexton High School and Eastern.

This unique shakeup was primarily caused by low signup rates due to challenges from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Lansing School District spokesman Robert Kolt said.

“The extracurricular marching band was consolidated since the numbers at two of the high schools were low. Still, the Lansing School District wanted to provide any student the experience and ability to participate in this extracurricular activity,” Kolt said in an official statement from the Lansing School District.

When Everett High School Band Director Penny Filonczuk was informed that Sexton and Eastern would not be fielding marching bands of their own, she was game for a last-minute plan that involved bringing senior high school students from Sexton and Eastern onboard that were still eager to perform in a marching band. 

“We were the only ones fielding a band. The COVID shutdown made our numbers low. Now we have 35 total, five are from Sexton and Eastern,” Filonczuk said. “Both Eastern and Sexton have new marching band directors this fall. It’s hard to get a program going when you change leadership midsummer.” 

Dealing with an anemic marching band of her own that needed more players, Filonczuk placed phone calls to several senior students from Sexton that had signed up for that year’s band camp. One Sexton student ended up responding to Filonczuk’s call and agreed to join up with the Everett band this school year. 

Four other students from Eastern joined after one parent called Filonczuk and asked if the student could join the marching band. That parent later phoned up three families with senior high school students who perform in marching bands and shared the alternative she managed to arrange with Everett and Filonczuk, and those families made the same arrangement. 

“She told the others and they said, ‘Oh, we want to do it too.’ We limited it to seniors, and it was low-key. It was something that just evolved, it wasn’t planned,” Filonczuk said. 

A high school marching band typically has 55 members, Filonczuk said. Though she’s getting some much-needed reinforcements from the Everett and Sexton students, the marching band is still considerably smaller than average. Filonczuk said the marching band hasn’t been forced to alter songs’ compositions or switch any players to different instruments to compensate.  

“We’ve got the right people playing the right instruments. We haven’t had to ask anybody to move. We’ve just made it work and make it as normal as possible for students, especially the seniors,” Filonczuk said.

Filonczuk said Everett’s students have been very welcoming to the other students coming aboard from Sexton and Eastern. Despite being a rather patchwork group, there is still a strong sense of unity between the marching band’s young musicians. 

“My kids have been so welcoming. I always tell them, ‘No matter where a student is going to school, we all want the same experience in band. We all want to be successful and make memories.’ My kids have been wonderful welcoming the kids from Sexton and Eastern. Those kids are wonderful too. It’s been really positive all the way around,” Filonczuk said. 

Returning from 2020, a highly tumultuous year for public school districts and their many extracurricular programs, has been an emotional experience for Filonczuk and the students in Everett’s marching band. She said it’s a weight off everybody’s shoulders to get back to doing what they love most. 

“It’s amazing to be able to be with the students again. It’s a joy to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to do this’ and then go do it. It’s a joy to give them the traditions that they’ve looked forward to since they joined band,” Filonczuk said. “I’ve had some of them since they joined band in seventh grade – I’ve had them all the way and now they’re seniors. Lansing has a lot of great kids.”

Though the Lansing School District managed to find a compromise so at least one marching band would be active this year, Kenneth Turner, a Sexton alumnus and a longtime avid fan of the school’s marching band, is highly disappointed that Sexton isn’t fielding a band of its own. 

“It’s something that all of us old-timers that grew up in the area can’t even believe. I told people this past weekend at a reunion, ‘Man, can you believe Sexton doesn’t have a band this year?’ They were blown away. Back in our day, our band was 100 performers strong,” Turner said.

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