LONGMONT — When Andrew Hendrickson was hit by a car in August, the Silver Creek High School senior thought his marching band days were over.
Hendrickson, a tuba player, suffered two shattered bones in his right leg when a driver made a left-hand turn into the side of his bike. On the mend for the next year, the high school student figured he “was benched” his final year of marching band.
“If it was any other band director, it would have been just easier to say I had to sit on the sidelines and watch,” Hendrickson said.
But “ Mr. Bill” had a plan.
Hendrickson had played with the marching band from its inception, when Silver Creek was the new school on the block four years ago. Back then, the marching band had a mere 17 members, Hendrickson remembered.
“Half the band had to switch instruments in order to sound decent,” he said, balancing on two crutches, his walking cast barely visible under a pair of jeans.
Four years later, the Raptors high school marching band has 95 members and placed fifth in the state competition this year and last. The band also played Disneyland in California last year and has its sights set to play in Ireland in 2006.
Students, when asked the reason for their success, merely point in Mr. Bill’s direction.
Mr. Bill is band director Bill Wilkinson — “just another guy in the band,” said junior John Wiland.
Mr. Bill is the kind of teacher who meets students for coffee, they say. He asks them questions. He doesn’t hand out rules.
He builds an outhouse for a senior with a broken leg so the student can finish his last year on the field with his bandmates, not on the sidelines.
The 1960 film “The Magnificent Seven” and the 1974 film “Blazing Saddles” inspired this year’s cowboy-themed program: red handkerchiefs, wagons, stick ponies, fake cow pies and Wranglers for almost everyone.
Hendrickson, wearing red longjohns and stashed in a fake outhouse, surprises the crowd by opening the door when the band starts to play. The band even gets the crowd to sing along to “Home On the Range.”
The only thing missing is the campfire. The performance resembles a theatrical production more than the typical half-time show marching bands are known for.
Last year, it was the 1980 comedy movie “The Blues Brothers” that inspired Mr. Bill to dress the band in black ties, fedoras and police uniforms.
“It’s more about enjoying the music than hard-core playing,” Wiland said.
Said Hendrickson: “Mr. Bill makes it fun-oriented. He’s not out to please the judges.”
But judges have liked what they’ve seen at Silver Creek. And now, the marching band has been invited to play in the 2006 St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin, as a part of the Ireland tourism board’s efforts to encourage more Americans to visit.
Looking back on the past four years, Mr. Bill credits the marching band’s success to the dedication of its students.
“It’s tough being a first-year school,” he said, “because you don’t have any traditions. But now we do, and we have that pride built up.”
Melanie M. Sidwell can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 274, or by
e-mail at email@example.com.