The marching bands of today are very different than bands of the past.

Not so long ago, bands existed for one purpose: halftime entertainment at football games. Sure, some band members participated in pep-band at those games or marched in parades to represent the school, but one thing was constant – they were auxiliary to something else, always a side-show and never the main attraction.

Those not “in the know” with marching bands could easily assume they have not changed. After all, the biggest exposure to the community at large remains football games and parades. What most people do not know, however, is just how big of a deal they have become in the last few decades.

Today, Indiana marching bands are no longer sidekicks for entertainment. The Indiana State School Music Association, or ISSMA, formed in 1981, and created a competitive organized and stratified body for bands of all shapes and sizes in Indiana to contend against one another. Marching band is one of ISSMA’s most popular events.

Both Columbia City and Whitko have marching bands that compete in ISSMA, and those living near the high schools have probably heard them practicing at least once throughout the season. While Churubusco does not have a marching band, its pep band works hard to be a cheerful presence at home football games and band members have other opportunities to compete during the year.

ISSMA’s most well-attended and undoubtedly flashiest event is its annual Marching Band State Finals competition, which takes place every year around the first weekend in November.

Much like in high school sports, progressing to the ISSMA state competition is a major accomplishment. Each season begins with about 120 bands statewide, which compete in weekly competitions and whittle down the numbers until eventually only the 40 best bands remain. There are four classes, A-D, which split up the bands by school size, and only the top ten from each class advance to finals.

When a band manages to become a state finalist, it marches in Lucas Oil Stadium in front of a monstrous crowd. In the past, attendance at finals has been upward of 15,000. For the dedicated high school students, directors, parents and volunteers, Lucas Oil is the biggest stage they will perform on in their marching careers and, for many, it remains an intangible dream. Columbia City had high hopes for the season, but the tough competition was too much. While they did not make ISSMA state, the Marching Eagles have been successful in Indiana State Track Marching in the past.

With well over 100 hours spent tirelessly rehearsing their show, sometimes in the sleet and rain, we commend the Whitko Marching Pride on making it to ISSMA State Finals for the first time in school history. We are also glad to see the town of South Whitley proudly supporting the kids in this momentous accomplishment, because marching band is a big deal.