The older that I’ve gotten, the more I’ve valued a good night’s sleep.

Usually, I tend to stay up to around midnight working on stories. I’ll probably play a game or two of NBA 2K20 or MLB The Show 21 to wind my brain down before my head hits the pillow at about 1-1:30 a.m. Once I go to sleep, it’s a chore to wake back up, which is why I usually have 5-6 alarms set 15 minutes apart from each other when I have to wake up in the morning.

This past Saturday was a different story. I stayed up playing video games because I knew I had to be at Pierre T.F. Riggs High School at 4 a.m. What was I doing at the school at that time? I was getting on a bus headed for the March to the Meridian marching band competition in Yankton with the Emerald Regiment and three other chaperones. The March to the Meridian is a marching band competition pitting schools from South Dakota, Nebraska and Minnesota against each other in both parade marching and field marching.

You might be questioning why I was there. Marching band isn’t a sport, is it? It may not be to most people, but marching band has way more in common with sports than you might think. I learned that first hand. I jumped at the opportunity to see what these kids go through after being invited by Riggs band director Mackenzie McKeithan-Jensen.

Waking up at 4 a.m. isn’t easy for anybody. The only people I’ve ever heard about being up that early are nurses, policemen and workout fanatics like Dwayne Johnson and Mark Wahlberg. These kids are rockstars for being up that early. If I hated it, I can only imagine how they felt. If you’ve ever driven or rode on a bus to Yankton, you know how long that drive can feel. That drive feels way longer when the sun is just barely starting to peek out of its slumber by the time you get to Mitchell.

Once we got to Yankton High School, we were directed to go to a spot on the Meridian Bridge that falls inside the Nebraska state line. When I woke up that morning, I knew I’d be shooting photos of the kids marching; I didn’t know I’d actually be somewhat marching with them, nor did I know that I’d be in another state for a short amount of time. I tried my best to stay ahead of them, because photos of faces are better than photos of backsides. Once we got about midway through the nearly mile long trek, I had to let them pass me by because I was a little winded. On top of that, people looked at me like I was a part of the band somehow instead of the guy that was there to document their performance. I didn’t want any part of that. After all, it’s about the kids, not the sports reporter. I also noticed some parents making the trip down to Yankton, which was astonishing given the time of day they had to be there. When the band was done performing, they stopped to watch their fellow marching bands behind them perform, in turn getting a little scouting report. You learn different things by watching someone other than yourself doing the thing you’re doing.

The thing I noticed about the Emerald Regiment’s marching band performance, other than being very good, was how many moving parts there were. You had the color guard waving their flags in the front of the band. They were followed by the saxophones, horns and trombones, with the drumline following in the rear. While they were marching, the band moved around amongst each other, mixing up the order of people much like a volleyball rotation, with the color guard always staying in front.

Once all the bands were done parading through the streets of Yankton, we proceeded to the awards ceremony at Riverside Park. If a team won an award, they celebrated like they had just scored a game clinching point in a volleyball match, or a touchdown in football. The band from Worthington in particular was something to behold, as their celebration was choreographed and very mesmerizing, much like a dance routine would be. The Emerald Regiment ended up in first place in musical effects, and third place in parade.

I saw more choreography in the field performance at Crane-Youngworth Field. If you were at the Govs’ Homecoming football game, you saw a version of what the Emerald Regiment did in their performance in Yankton. There performance in Yankton was more fine tuned, and it was good enough to get them second place in their class. The Emerald Regiment cheered on their fellow marching bands that came after them, marveling at different things the other teams were able to do. I learned there’s a kinship between the Emerald Regiment and the Scarlet Pride from Chamberlain, as they were the team closest in proximity to Pierre.

After everything was over, the Emerald Regiment and myself picked up some food for the road at HyVee. When I tell you I’ve never seen a group of kids with a more voracious appetite after performing, I mean it. Kids walked onto the bus with full sized pizzas and boxes of muffins. I’m sure the pizzas were shared amongst each other, but it was still funny to see. The only thing I can compare it to is when a wrestler’s season ends, so they decide to go all out at Pizza Ranch. It was a sight to see, and I loved it.

Now, as I sit here a little under a week removed from this experience, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that marching band kids should be considered athletes. They perform for crowds just like any other athlete does. In the case of the field performance, I’m sure people had to pay to watch them perform. They wake up very early and hop on a bus to go to competitions. It’s draining for them both physically and mentally. When competing, they have choreography and music that they need to remember, similar to a football player needing to remember plays. If one thing goes wrong, or if one person is out of position, it could be the difference between placing in the top three and not placing at all. They deserve way more respect and recognition than what they are given.

The reason I wrote this is to give others a little better understanding of what makes these kids so exceptional. Now that you know more about what marching bands go through, you’ll hopefully consider coming to a competition to see for yourself what it’s like, or donating to the Pierre Fine Arts Booster Club so that these kids can continue to go to more competitions. This was my first marching band competition with the Emerald Regiment. I hope it’s not my last.

Scott Millard | 605-295-8429

Scott Millard has been the sports reporter for the Capital Journal since 2017. He was previously an intern with the Capital Journal during the summer of 2016.

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