November 2, 2012 10:59:33 AM
In a lot of respects, Starkville High School Band Director Shawn Sullivan and the school's head football coach Jamie Mitchell have eerily similar responsibilities.
Both have jobs that force them to iron out details time and again, tweaking and perfecting. Both must work with what they are given. Both are expected to perform at a high level year after year. And, the kicker, both Sullivan's and Mitchell's success relies on a bunch of stereotypically unpredictable, emotional teenagers.
Still think it is a stretch?
The Yellow Jacket Band has experienced some of the same success the Yellow Jacket football team has in recent years, and that's not a coincidence.
"I can relate with Coach Mitchell, on this," Sullivan said. "When he came here he started with going to the middle school and getting that program in order. I have really tried to do the same thing."
Sullivan has four assistant band directors at the Armstrong Middle School, Karen Dieckmann, Doug Thomas, Kathy Baker and Demario Jefferson, whom he has tasked with having the students prepared when they get to the high school.
Five years into his stint with SHS, Sullivan is reaping the benefits of a solid middle school program.
At the Mississippi High School Activities Association Band Festival in Grenada earlier this year, the Yellow Jacket Band received straight superior ratings for the fifth year in a row. Not long after that, the band took home overall grand champion of 24 schools and again was given straight superior ratings at the Chunky River Marching Contest in Union.
Not only has the band consistently performed at a top-notch level, but the number of musicians has nearly doubled since Sullivan arrived. With more than 140 kids participating at the high school alone, 80 of them freshman, the increasing popularity is apparent. At Armstrong, the band is 220 strong.
"Some people are excited about the band getting bigger, and that is fine," Sullivan said. "For me though, it's more about making sure we keep the quality, not the quantity."
But Sullivan added that the kids are really buying into what he is trying to do.
"The skill set has definitely increased," he said.
As the band begins to transition out of football season and into concert season, Sullivan has been happy with what he has seen. The two concert bands, made up of select members from the 140-piece marching band, held tryouts on Monday, and he said now is where it starts to get competitive, in a good way.
"They get upset when they aren't first chair," he said. "It's good to see that desire."
Sullivan does not have much time to get the two bands ready. Their first performance is Nov. 11 at the 4th Annual Military Charity Dance Recital at the Starkville Sportsplex.
"We will just really dig into the music next week," he said. "It's fun though, and these kids are totally capable of the turnaround."
The program begins at 3:30 p.m. For more information on the SHS Yellow Jacket Band please visit starkville.k12.ms.us