Friday, May 31, 2013

9 Habits of the Happiest Pageantry People I Know

When I was performer and young instructor, I often struggled with staying in the moment and focusing on the here and now. Many moments were wasted, because I saw happiness as something to be gained and something tangible that I could touch. People and events could change my mood in a heartbeat, as I let another person's sense of insecurity or anger management issue rent the space around me and the space inside my head.

As I approach my 30th year in the activity, I can say that who I was then vs. who I am now is not just a remarkable transformation, but a gift that I'm able to look back on that person and see just how far I have come. I can look at entire winterguard seasons where I functioned in a complete state of misery, because I chose to surround myself with people who were less than ethical, less than pleasant, and completely miserable in their own existence. I'm thankful that I'm strong enough and wise enough now to not let those types of people infect me with their own self loathing. The pageantry arts is not unlike other communities that are competitive in nature. We have our share of cattiness. We have people who absolutely believe that if they don't receive a "special score" at a show, that they were "screwed" and it's clearly not their fault, but someone else's. We have people whose very self esteem is derived from the activity and when that esteem is threatened in any way, they create chaos for anyone in their wake. This all comes with competition. You can find it in every sport and all throughout the arts.

Instead of focusing on those people however, I want to write about the people who are the opposite of them. I want to talk about most of the people in the activity. About a year ago, I decided that I was tired of negativity. Literally, sick and tired of it! I took everyone on Facebook who frequently posts negatively about others or events and put them in a special list on the left called, "Negative People." About once a week I check in on those people to see if they are still negative and hateful. Very few people once they reach that list make it off the list.  Making that list helped me create a news feed that had an overall positive tone to it. This experiment of mine started yielding some interesting results. I found that when I closed the door to negativity, positive people just walked through a door that opened itself up to me. I started to realize that there are people in this world who are genuinely happy. They aren't faking it. They exude an energy about them that makes you want to read their Facebook posts and seek them out when you are in their vicinity. These people might not be perfect and have had their share of bad days, but they have a sense about them that makes people want to be in their presence. Most of these people don't have closets of medals or make a ton of money. I have to believe though, because of their approach and the way they see life, that they derive so much more pleasure out of their piece of the activity and especially out of their life. Before I wrote this post I made a list of people whom I highly admire, because of their attitudes and the approach they take when teaching others. The traits listed below is the embodiment of what they have taught me and what they bring to the world.

1. Grateful

 Elizabeth Bannon is a person that many might not know out of our little colorguard world of central Florida. She was a girl I had the pleasure of teaching a long time ago when she was in high school. We were a guard at a little christian school and I was only there for one year with her. To be honest, I barely remember teaching her. I've gotten to know Elizabeth more as an instructor and a teacher. She taught for years at the school she marched at. She had a deep love for her school and the kids in her guard. She valued her past. She thanked me on more than one occasion  for what I taught her. Every week she posts on Facebook something positive about her kids, her school, or the show they attended. She is always proud of her kids and sees each day as a new opportunity to teach life skills to the children of our future. Elizabeth is grateful of the simple life she leads and she makes sure the people around her are the recipients of the expression of that gratitude. Her guard may not be the next world class national medalist, but her guard always exhibits class and a love for performing and that can only come from having an instructor with so much gratitude for others.

2. Sense of Humor

My friend Richard Horton is a nut. He defies every level of sanity that can be discussed in any psychological journal ever written. Richard is one of those rare individuals that when you know you will be around him, you pack an extra pair of underwear because it is certain you will pee on yourself from laughing. More than once I have found myself laughing out loud just thinking about some stunt he has pulled. Richard was another person I taught. When I taught Richard he was a young, arrogant boy struggling with his own demons. He was hard to teach. Many years ago Richard left the activity to work through those demons. When he returned, he was a man who had a gift for seeing the joy in all situations. He could turn a bad rehearsal and a bad score into a comedy routine on a moments notice. He never takes himself seriously and he sees the activity as a place for him to give back to others, because others gave back to him. Richard is also a brilliant choreographer and if you ever have the chance to spend a day with him I highly recommend it...but bring your extra pair of underwear.

3.  Regards Problems as Challenges

There are people in this activity that don't seem to be phased by anything. ANYTHING! In fact you have to wonder if they took a handful of xanax before every show. My friend Joe Cataneo is one of those people. I had the pleasure of teaching with Joe for one season and it wasn't a season filled with rainbows and butterflies. When the stress of March and low scores took its toll, Joe knew how to start anew and keep a team in tact. The kids were always his first priority. Everything to him was a new experience to explore. I don't see Joe much anymore, but when I do he's still like that. He's calm, level headed, and always sees around him an opportunity to learn. At headquarters in Dayton, you can barely get him alone. Everyone wants to talk to Joe.

4. Speaks Well of Others

The ability to speak about people; all people in a gentle manner and a manner fitting of decency is a trait that is very difficult for even the best of us. It's easy to go off the deep end sometimes and loose our way and lower ourselves to the pettiness of the lowest human denominator. It's easy to do in an activity that has seen its share of cattiness. There are people though, who regardless of what goes on behind their closed doors, has shown to rise above adversity in a manner that does no harm to others. They do this in many ways. They are professional...always! They seek to see those around them in their best light, regardless of how others might want to see them. They put themselves on the line to make sure a persons feelings aren't hurt, when others find reasons to tear them down. I have had the pleasure of working on the board with Mike Higbe, who is the President of the FFCC. He is one of the people I'm talking about. I must also add that so is Joe Cataneo, Richard Horton, and Liz Bannon. I add in Mary McWilliams White as well.

5. Smiling

There are people that I only see once, maybe twice a year. When I see them, they greet me with a huge smile, which is often followed by a hug. They don't care about the score of my guard or the score of their guard for that matter. When they see me...they smile. When they see others...they smile. They greet those around them with smiles...always. They are warm and welcoming. They rise above the drama of the activity and find pleasure in the people who are with them at that moment and in that time. Stephanie Renell, another student of mine is just that person. Doesn't matter when or where. She greets me always with her warm smile and booming, friendly voice. She's also a brilliant tech. She's not the only one. Jim Taylor is another person. I didn't see him at all last year and when I saw him in Dayton he hugged me so hard he knocked the wind out of me. I find that this trait and this trait alone is one of the reasons I stay in this insane activity of ours. I have been honored to judge all over the country and in every circuit and in every state, there are people who always are smiling and always ready to welcome you home. John Meyers of the FFCC is one. Nola Jones, Cheryl Myers, and Heather Rothman.  Michael Gray as well.

6. Don't sweat the small stuff

Now isn't this something we should all learn to master?? There have been hundred of books written over this one concept. So why is it so hard! At the end of the day, it's just pageantry. Yes, our hearts and souls are poured into these shows; as well as our money, time, and reputations. At the end of the day's just pageantry. I always feel sorry for people in Dayton who are so distraught by scores, that they give up that amazing opportunity to socialize with some of the finest people in the world. They pout and stay by themselves. On my death bed, I'm fairly certain I'm not going to lay there saying, "Oh my God! If I had only scored 90 in Dayton that year we did the Adele show, then my entire life would be different! Lord take me now!!" That just doesn't happen. So why do we stress over things that we either can't control or things that shouldn't matter? The people in the activity who seem to understand this the best are the people that go day to day and season to season knowing that it's the joy of the moment and the people that make that moment who are truly happy. The person that comes to mind is Kurt Jull. What an amazing attitude. He told me this year in Dayton that he had never had a guard that got a medal at WGI. How is that possible? Kurt Jull has been a part of teams that created some of the most amazing moments in Dayton history. Remember the peacocks?? It's not the medals, though. He knows it. He knows that it's the opportunity we give the kids and the audience that matters. It's his passion and creativity that he wraps into a show and not his ego.

7. Nurture social relationships

It's the reason we are here. Friendship is not just the driving force behind the activity, but it's the driving force behind humanity. Making friends and nurturing those relationships is what life is all about. I am dumbfounded by people that say they can't trust others and they would rather keep their enemies closer than their friends. No thank you. That mentality doesn't work for me. If I had to pick one reason I've stayed around as long as I have, would be because of the friendships. Friends from all over the country. People who have been there with a kind word and gentle heart to listen. They want nothing in return, except the same from me. I could write for days about the people I've met who I now call friends, but it's Paradigm. Paradigm is the reason I exist in this activity. Through laughter and tears we have always been there for each other. Ron Comfort, Mike Marcantano, Rodney Fuller, Chris Flynn, Joe Flynn, Ben Adams, Mike Palau and a host of other staff, alumni, and supporters make up this wonderful and quirky organization.The philosophy of family and friendship is a reason to exist and it has given me smiles on days when there was nothing to smile about.

8. Give back to the activity that has given so much to you

We must give back. The pageantry arts has given all of us so much to be thankful for. It has given us the gift of passion and through that passion we have been able to cultivate friendships, creativity, the range of emotions that all humans should explore, laughter, love, the ability to test our own capabilities, and the exploration of our minds in ways "normal" people can't imagine. We MUST give back. You can do this in so many ways. Consult for a young or struggling group for free. Sit on a board. Sponsor a child's season. Buy an instrument. Go to a show and buy concessions. Buy a candy bar from a kid selling door to door. There are so many people in this activity that do this. You know who comes to mind is the great people of the Marching Roundtable. They set out to bring information to the activity in a way that has never been done before. The conversations are frank, honest, and seek to really reach out to a community of instructors to give them guidance when many others haven't. They don't do this to be rich. They do it because they care. They genuinely care about the activity and want to leave it better than they found it.

There is another group that never gets credit for giving back that I must give a shout out to. It's the judging community. What amazing people! Say what you will, but most of them go to the shows hoping for the opportunity to offer words of wisdom and support. I am honored to call many of them my friends. I've seen them fret over scores they have given, because they wish they could have gone back an added just one more tenth. I've seen them sit in airports over night and judge all day with no sleep. I've seen the pride on their faces at championships when the guard they have judged all season finally gets it.

9. Spirituality

This is the most important. If you would have asked me 5 years ago what I thought was the most important aspect to happiness and specifically our happiness in the pageantry arts, it would be spirituality. This is not religion, but the belief that there is a force out there that brought us together and is giving us these moments to grow our souls. Last year, I taught at a Christian school for marching band season. Teaching there was unexpected and something that I did just to make a little extra cash for Christmas. Throughout the season, I fell in love with the kids in a way that I never had before. These kids were very young and many were in middle school. The band could fit into my living room and they practiced half of what their competitors did. I didn't have the highest of competitive aspirations for them. There was something about them, though. I'm not religious, but I respect their beliefs and traditions. One night at practice the band director stopped practice and told everyone to look at the sunset. He said that God brought us all together to revel in that moment. I never saw a sunset like that in my lifetime. While looking at that sunset with about 45 kids, I felt nothing but utter peace. It was the definition of mindfulness. At one point that season we had gone to a competition. I couldn't stay until the end and told the guard captain to text me with the results. They won. Completely and unexpectedly they won the show. In her text message she made one simple statement that said, "Shelba we won! Isn't God amazing. We all did it together!" Now, whether it was God or the mysteries of the universe, we'll never know. What I do know is that in that one text, I saw a 16 year old who showed no ego and no selfishness. She attributed her success and the success of the band to her higher power. I couldn't deny that and I would never forget it.

So what about me? Where do I stand on the scale of happiness? What makes me see each day as one of wonder and pleasure, regardless what the universe throws at me? I wish I could say that I embody every trait listed here, but I don't. I'm still growing as I'm far from the peak of happiness. I've learned though, that each day I can walk into a gym or on a football field with young people as an opportunity to help shape the future. I exercise everyday. I take care of my body so it will fuel my mind. I meditate. Mostly though, I'm working on living in the moment. I'm doing so much better at getting to know the young people I teach and the staff I teach with. I don't think about the end of the season, but the moment of the season I'm in and valuing that moment. I see people around me and really listen to them and hope I can offer a shoulder of support. In every person we encounter we can choose to find the negative or the positive. We can take their one bad day and treat it as a lifetime flaw. I choose the other path. I choose the path of seeing the good in everyone.

My goal is to leave the activity better than I found it and I believe that the people listed here are doing just that.

Thank you for reading.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

An Open Letter To The Pageantry Arts: We Can Do More

To my friends, peers, and colleagues in the pageantry world:

In my life, I have been allowed to discover, engage, and participate in the activity of pageantry.  I've done it on almost all levels from performer to teacher to director to board member to judge. I can't say I've seen it all, but after 25 years of doing this, I've seen a lot. I've seen enough to form an opinion and I've seen enough to be able to step back with perspective and say that I want to see this activity flourish long after I'm gone.  I also have been given a gift beyond finding pageantry by accident, as many others did.  Somewhere along the line, the universe handed me a fate that I could have never predicted. I found myself working in the service of others. I didn't set out to work in non profit, but that is where the universe felt I would be best used. I went from a very underpaid recreation therapist, to a program manager, to a government think tank. I say this, not to promote my resume, but to say that in my professional field I think I have seen it all.  I can honestly say that. I've seen kids who have gone from criminal to successful businessman. I've seen kids go from great families to jail. I have a client serving life in prison right now. I've dealt with suicide, bullying, molestation, rape, severe drug abuse, and clients who have been physically abused by their parents to the point of death. I have also seen the inner workings of non profit for the good and for the bad. I've seen the collapse of non profits and the non-profits that are worth millions.  I've audited those programs and explored what went right and what went wrong. I have seen the abuse of power through ego, in the name of, "being in it for the kids." In my line of work I've been a part of audit teams that was able to predict the collapse of organizations by the lack of proper controls of oversight. Mostly though, I've seen wonderful things done for our most vulnerable population...our children.

I say all of this because I would like for the pageantry arts to open up a discussion and talk about what it is we see and hear, because we too are a non-profit in the service of children and can learn a lot from those organizations already working.  I would like to talk about our future, because to be honest, I'm worried about it. I also believe that we can be so much more. We can be larger than a weekend in Dayton or a weekend in Indianapolis. To have this conversation though, we have to be honest. We have to look at our deficits and our assets. We have to include ALL stakeholders in the conversation and we must check our ego's at the door. The stakeholders for pageantry are not just instructors and board members, but parents, performers, community members, and school administration.  It's called convening a congress. Hold the congress and the stakeholders will come...I guarantee it!

I am worried for our art because I see trends that are leading us down a path we might have difficulty returning from . A few years ago the economy crashed, spiraling state budgets out of control. People lost their jobs and their homes and gas prices skyrocketed. Those people effected were all of us. Working at a government think tank I'm privileged and also tortured by daily statistics shown to us about how more and more children are falling under the poverty line and their parents into the category of "the working poor." Just this week the Annie E. Casey Foundation released its annual Kids Count report. There were some positive improvements, but some of the statistics were frightening and shows that we are going in the wrong direction. For example, 40% of all children are living in a household with a high housing cost burden. 32% of children are living with parents who lack secure employment. 23% of all children are living in poverty. 68% of all 4th grade children are not proficient in reading. 66% of 8th graders are not proficient in math. So why does this matter? Why do these numbers matter to the color guard, drum corps, and marching band community? Well, it's simple, The more these numbers stay at alarming rates, the more funding the funding will follow the trends. An example of this? Just this summer, a multitude of Pinellas County government entities that have a stake in child welfare, put millions of dollars into summer reading and math programs for children in low income areas. Where did the money come from? It came from funding allocated for summer camps and extra curricular activities. This is happening all over the country. Right or wrong...this is what is happening. 

As an independent guard director, I see kids paying their dues with student loans. I see kids having to make a choice between drum corps and winterguard, because the costs of both are so incredibly expensive. I'm concerned that we are becoming an activity where only the upper middle class and wealthy can participate, when the activity started at the community level for all kids. Drum Corps was started for the community and some corps were set up for kids with troubled backgrounds to have a safe environment to participate in and to get their lives back on track.  As a parent, if my child came to me and wanted to march drum corps today, I couldn't afford it. I don't make enough money and I'm not anywhere close to being near the poverty line and I'm not considered the working poor. I would have to make a choice. College fund or drum corps? Drum Corps International estimated that each performer averages $3,500 per season. We have got to get the cost down across the board.

I'm concerned for our young instructors. The times are different. There are laws that they might not know of and the risk they take on as instructors of youth, could land them in the middle of a lawsuit or even worse; prison.  Parents no longer have the money to allow their kids to participate in multiple activities in their lifetime. With the cost of childcare, little league youth sports, paying for the schools supplies, and college, they have to make choices. They want a return on their investment and they want their children to come home safe. All instructors and organizations need guidance in how to keep the kids coming back and to make a choice that pageantry is a way of life, much like gymnastics or baseball is for others. We need to professionalize our field. 

I'm concerned that we don't advocate for the activity at a national level. Advocacy at the national level would allow for more effective fundraising at the local level. It's easy to advocate for baseball or football little league teams, because baseball and football are multi-million dollar industries known to everyone in the world. So we have to try harder.  I'm concerned that we don't keep data.  Real data. Having real data allows for us know where we are really at and allows for us to make a case for support. It allows us to know where we are headed and where we need to go.  We need to collect data on the diversity of the activity, the financials of the organizations, how the kids pay for their dues, why they do pageantry, and what keeps them coming back. We need to prove our effectiveness by not just numbers of kids performing, but the number of lives we have changed such as how many went on to college or how many made honor roll. We need to keep data on the communities we serve and the ones we don't. We need to survey all stakeholders and once we collect this data we need to teach our directors how to use it.  We need transparency. We need boards made up of accountants, lawyers, youth advocates, teachers, youth specialists, community organizers, and even doctors. We need diversity on our boards and we need diversity in our membership. We need policies that govern our organizations based on oversight and safety. Those policies must ensure that we will do our best to keep the kids safe and the organizations financially viable both nationally and locally. We need to map our assets. Find out who we have and ask them to give back either financially or through in-kind support. This activity has raised some wonderful and smart people. Not all of them can design the show of a lifetime and some of them have never touched a musical instrument or flag, but it doesn't make them any less passionate and able to give back. As an activity we have been around long enough that we have alumni in all aspects of life; stationed all over the world. We have doctors, lawyers, teachers, artists, researchers, politicians, psychiatrists, marketing professionals, journalists, business owners, bankers, technology experts, and professional grant writers. We even have alumni who are now famous. Wouldn't it be an amazing experience to get these people together and ask them the following questions, "What do you know and what can you teach us?"

We need to find a way to have a discussion that does not involve the competitive environment, but how we can make pageantry accessible for all children who want it. We need to think big. We can be bigger than life. We are no longer the small little flags in the back of the band. We are no longer the parade band that exists only for the July 4th parade.  We are a sport and we are an art and we can be more than we are. We are not just "guns in a gym!" Too many lives have been touched for that phrase to still exist.

My hope for our future is that we become an activity that we no longer have to explain, but an activity that the community, corporations, and funders automatically recognize and that we aren't seen as the accessory to the football team, but the real sport we all know we are. I hope that one day we are so recognizable that corporate sponsors such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi, McDonalds, and Gatorade clamor to be the official sponsor of our regional and national events. I want parents to have access to private schools for colorguard, much like dance, cheerleading, and gymnastics.  I want yearly conferences where thousands of people come to not just learn about creating a great show, but come to learn how to make the experience better for our youth. I want to see partnerships with already successful associations such as The Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, the Women's Sports Foundation, or the United Way.  I would like to see us set up professional organizations for, "The Women of Pageantry" or create a program called, "The Mentorship Academy." I would like to see us talk about issues that effect our young people such as the obesity epidemic, the importance of education,  women's issues, or even issues related to LGBT Youth.  I want pageantry to be larger than life and then I want more.  I want judges so well trained that there is never a question about the accuracy of their score. I want organizations that are so well run, that they only fold by choice and not by incompetence sucking money and time away from well meaning performers and staff.  I want more. I want more. I want more. I want to see more collaboration, more leadership, and a stronger vision. 

My fear is that we are losing our activity to a crumbling economy, an overly litigious society, and a world not as inclusive as it should be.  I also know that we aren't having these conversations as openly as we should. When the economy crashed I didn't hear one conversation from our national organizations about the kids and programs we could lose because of it. Think of this. We tend to believe as a group of people that music education and all forms of the pageantry arts increases critical thinking, the ability to work with others, creativity, math, and physical fitness. If this is true, then why aren't we doing more for all children? Why aren't we discussing that a child from poverty might not have the transportation to get to and from practices and that sponsorship's and fundraising in their community is more difficult than a kid from a middle class community? Why aren't we advocating for that child and trying to find solutions for their future in the pageantry arts?  I hear many people discuss the issues, but behind the scenes over cocktails. Some people don't care at all and don't grasp the magnitude of what we could be and what we really are. Some people only care about their unit and others only care about winning. Some people are very elitist. Most of us though, see the possibilities and we are ready to talk about it. It's time to take our place on the international stage and join the benefits and notoriety that other sports see. We can't think small and we can't think of today. We have to think about our future and for those kids who will come after us. I do color guard so my child can one day experience the passion I've been able to experience. I also write this today so children who by no fault of their own, who don't have the financial means, can participate in this wondrous activity so they may feel the joy thousands of us have felt.

We can no longer think small, think for ourselves, or think only for today. This is my plea to the pageantry arts.

I'll tell you this. I spend my professional day discussing the plight of children in our society...all children. I am inundated with data and facts. I visit communities that are crumbling. I do research on those communities and always...ALWAYS...I have in the back of my mind how the pageantry arts could be a catalyst for change for the children growing up in a world beyond their means. It's disheartening and we can make a difference if we just try. 

Thank you my friends for letting me take part in your life through pageantry and thank you to the universe for knowing more than me and guiding me to it. May all children be so lucky.



Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Marching Band: It Can Change The World

Yesterday in my mind's eye, I saw a group of kids. They were about 14 years old and it was the summer before their first year of high school. They were standing in a band room nervous and curious. They were waiting for something that they thought would give them an avenue to new friends and involvement in a school activity. Many of them knew they would never make a sports team and they weren't cheerleader material. Some of them were overweight. Some of them struggled with popularity, because they were shy or different. They made good grades and many were considered geeks. Many of them were bullied in middle school. They stood in this band room as an incoming class of freshmen holding their flute and trumpet cases. Some of them were holding a flag pole for the first time in their entire lives wondering what this "thing" was and some for the first time were about to hit a drum with a pair of sticks. On this special day, their lives were about to change because on this day, they would start their very first marching band practice. On this day, they would start a journey that would lead them down a path where they would meet the people they would spend countless hours with, as well as share their laughter and their tears. On this day they would begin to live a life many can only dream of and this journey will be

Community. It's the gift I wish I could give every child in the world. We are lacking it. We are a world of people fighting our personal apathy and turning a blind eye to a world that is bleeding. We are a world finding reasons to fight and reasons to turn away from our fellow man. Those kids who are starting their first day of practice are about to learn how to save the world although they don't know it. They are about to learn about passion and learn about community. Marching band is going to give them all of this and it's going to change their lives forever.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that I believe that pageantry can change the world. I'm an idealist. I always have been. I'm the person that everyone loves to hate because I really do want to do what the old Coke commercial says and teach the world to sing in perfect harmony. I believe in pageantry. I believe in what it teaches kids and the number of kids we can reach in any given school year is more than any other activity.  In many schools, the band reaches more kids than all the other activities combined. More than anything though, I believe in the passion that is generated in a person as they go through the course of a season. The skills they learn are lifelong skills and the people they meet will stay with them forever.

Pageantry ignites a fire in a person. If only for a brief moment in time, it makes a child believe in themselves and the community that supports them. It's a microcosm of the perfect world. In a perfect world, in Shelba's perfect world, community takes precedence over the individual. In my community the adults look out for kids that aren't even their own. The kids have a safe place to "hang out" while getting an education and learning new life skills. The adults in this community are educated and with this education they pass their wisdom on to the youth they mentor. Youth are seen as a participant in this community and not a victim of it. The youth are given responsibilities and held to a standard of those responsibilities. They aren't abused and they aren't coddled. The effort of the individual is meant to support the larger group and not to support one's own ego or self congratulatory personality.

In the microcosm of pageantry, the adults and the youth are one. The failures, the negativity, and the egotistical actions of one has drastic impact on the whole. The counter to that is the successes, the positivity, and the charitable actions of one can change the whole for the good and forever. It's people discovering teamwork and hard work. It's children learning that giving up on the group is NOT AN OPTION. 

In our community called pageantry, the kids are learning about responsibility. They are learning how to take care of others. They are planning and creating. Their imagination's are on fire! They are learning to win with grace and lose with a desire to keep pushing forward. Emotions are shared freely and hugs are given often. Adults admit that they have much to learn and the youth are there to teach them. Patience is practiced often and lessons are learned when that patience is given away without thought. In this community; parents, teachers, and children all play a role in the support of the bigger picture and respect for all is the cornerstone to success. In this world kids learn to take care of their environment and "leave things better than they found it." They learn to be punctual with a simple phrase, "Early is on time and on time is late." They will get fresh air and exercise. Someone will care if they go home at night and will work to make sure they keep up with their studies. This community is growing the children of tomorrow and everyone is playing a part.

Diversity is the driving force of this community. Everyone is accepted.

Gay? No problem.
Woman? Leaders rise from both sexes.
Black? Really? We don't see color.
Disabled? We'll find a place for you.
Don't speak english? Music and dance are the language we speak.
Deaf? Blind? Yep. Join us. You will teach us how to listen to music in new dimensions.
Young? This activity was made for you.
Old? We need your wisdom.

This is a world where acceptance is not just practiced, but expected.

This world of pageantry is the world John Lennon spoke about. It's about people living for the day and living life in peace. When these kids leave their pageantry experience they have learned so much more than music. They have learned what "community" should look like and act like. It is a group of people working toward one goal, struggling together day to day and not leaving anyone behind. To me, there is no question as to why so many of us have stuck around for so long. Many of us have stated that we would rather be on the field or in the gym isolated from the real world, because our world of pageantry is where our souls feel most at home. It's safe and it's the community that we long to see.

Kids all over the country will enter this world of pageantry for the first time in the next few weeks. The doors of life are about to open. Let's make sure to support them and teach them well. Let's reach out to our community and teach those who don't know what it is all about so they see more than just a halftime show. Let us seek to support the families who can't afford the opportunity to participate. Let's strive to educate. We can do more than win band contests. We can change the world.

As we start a new marching band season I encourage all of you reading this to give back to your community. Sponsor a kid. Pay their dues or a partial amount of their dues. Buy the local marching band a set of flags. Buy some drum sticks. Offer to pay for one sabre or the repair fees on one instrument. If nothing else, go to a show and cheer. Buy concessions.  Support the kids and support their passion. A donation that is specific in nature lets the music program you are donating to know how important your gift is and allows the kids to see how your kind gift was used for them.  Let's give back to them everything that was given to us and re-vision our community.