By DAVID WALTER
Special to The Goshen News
Before I started working at the Goshen News in January 1987, I had spent two years as a reporter for the News-Sun in Kendallville. In 1985, I was assigned to cover the East Noble marching band, and that year, they did the same thing Goshen would do two years later — go from never having made state finals to placing second.
So when it happened to Goshen two years later, it was déjà vu for me — the smiles, the screams, the cheers — I saw the same thing on the faces of the East Noble marchers.
In 1986, I was once again following the East Noble band, and I was in Kokomo for the regional. East Noble had performed fairly early in the day, and I was just hanging around with the East Noble faithful, waiting for the awards. As the bands came and went, the East Noble kids felt more and more confident.
Then one of the last bands to go on was Goshen. The East Noble kids watched and knew they were good — very good. Suddenly, the bravado turned to nervousness.
But the announcement of the five finalist bands found East Noble among the elite and Goshen left out.
So when I came to the Goshen News in 1987 and the fall rolled around, I knew something special was happening with the band program. I subsequently wrote a full-page feature about the band at the start of the season, with the headline “Looking for the road to Indianapolis.” (One interesting side note: I wrote this story twice. I was working late one night and had it nearly finished when The News computer system ate it. Arrgghhh!)
While researching that story, I realized that everyone in the band was going into the season with chips on their shoulders. I learned that Goshen had been oh-so-close too many times, and there was a different kind of resolve among the kids and the directors.
It seemed that everyone was on the same page every step of the season. And as the season started, the band was flattening the competition. Even perennial rival Concord was in Goshen’s rearview mirror.
At District competition, the band swept all the awards. Mike Hatch, father of trumpet player Tim Hatch, had told the band before district that if they swept all the awards, he would run home to Goshen from Concord. That day, Hatch had his running shorts on underneath his jeans. True to his word, he stripped down with the band all around him and ran the eight miles back to Goshen.
Regional that year was in Marion. I remember it being a cold, blustery, mostly cloudy day. But the sun broke through the clouds once — right before Goshen went on.
Goshen placed first at the regional, though the general public didn’t know that; the finalist bands are announced in random order. So elated as the Goshen folks were, there was even more elation when Dave Plank, score sheets in hand, went back to the band and told them they were No. 1 in the regional. Plank received an impromptu ride on the shoulders of band members. News Editor Bob Conrad played the photos above the banner on Page 1.
Then came state. In a 10-year retrospective story I wrote in 1997, Max Mault said he had no idea what to do in the week before state because Goshen had never been there before. Max said they practiced just as hard that week as the previous weeks.
“We did not want to take anything for granted. We didn’t even know what it took to take 10th place at state,” he said.
State took place in the Hoosier Dome (before it was the RCA Dome). While I had been there the previous two years with East Noble, it was all new to the Goshen kids — the weird airlocks, the odd acoustics, the Astroturf, the hash marks (different on a professional football field than college or high school). I could tell the kids were nervous, and I remember the awestruck looks when they entered the field and looked up into the crowd and all the way up to the dome.
Goshen went on first in Class B that day. Most bands don’t want to go on first; there’s a common myth in band competition that going on first is anathema, and that feeling ran through the band. (After years of covering the state finals, I realized that it doesn’t matter when you go on; bands win and lose from all positions.)
I don’t remember much about the show. I was so busy shooting photographs that it’s hard to take it all in. But I do remember the finale — a tricky Bernstein piece from his “Mass” — and the band had added some Christian cross props for the final push. It was a rousing finale.
Then came the wait. Nine more bands performed, then all the bands assembled on the field for the announcement of the placing, 10 through 1. As each band was ticked off, the Goshen kids’ faces told the story. Though the band was standing still, the faces were beaming. Top five was unthinkable, yet Goshen still hadn’t been called when fifth place arrived.
At this point, I’m as nervous and excited as the kids and adults are, kneeling on the floor of the Hoosier Dome, trying to snap photos and take notes at the same time.
Five and four go by and no Goshen. Then it comes — a tie for second place between Goshen and Northview. It reminded me of East Noble all over again.
Despite their overwhelming joy, the Goshen kids stood still in formation. It wasn’t until they had left the field and were in the tunnel, away from the crowd that the hooping and hollering began. And in that space, it was deafening.
Once outside, the band marched back to the buses where the real celebrating began. This is all a blur to me now; I was snapping photos and trying to do interviews in a sea of pandemonium. One of the celebratory shots that was printed in the paper was probably from me just holding my camera over my head and snapping indiscriminately. The moniker I came up with was “The Band from Nowhere.”
Back then, there was no Sunday paper for the News, so I had all day Sunday to drive back to Goshen and file my story.
I wrote the story Sunday night, alone in the newsroom. I brought in a TV so I could watch the final game of the World Series as well.
The “Band from Nowhere” line is a little fuzzy as to its origins. When leaving the dome, the bands get crammed into the tunnel, and then there’s the wait as they have to get through the airlock one at a time. Because the bands leave the field in order, Goshen was right next to Northview. I seem to remember someone from Northview wondering who that band was and where they came from; I took that and created the “Band from Nowhere” moniker, which I thought made for a good lead for the story. It really caught on with lots of people, and it turned into a sort of badge of honor.
I would cover 11 more state marching band championships while with the Goshen News. We got one state championship in that time — Concord in 1992. But Goshen never made it to the top spot, though it was a perennial state finalist and top five band.
In my 12 years at the News, covering the bands was what I enjoyed most. Directors, parents and kids were always so appreciative of the coverage. I received certificates, plaques, T-shirts and lots of thanks for the work. The Goshen News was sort of a pioneer in devoting space and resources to the bands, and other newspapers soon realized that marching band is a big deal in Indiana. I used to tell people that covering bands to the same degree as covering sports makes so much sense when you look at the numbers: Let’s say a band has 150 kids. Each of those kids has parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends who are interested in what they are doing. When you start adding up all those people, how can a newspaper not cover marching band?
David Walter is a former education reporter and assistant city editor at The Goshen News.