FORT MILL, S.C. Hours before they were awarded the state championship trophy, the 173 Fort Mill High School band members stepped off the field in a celebratory mood.
Their performance had been electric. It was a nine-minute, dynamic display of musical prowess and showmanship that brought many in the crowd to their feet.
The students were ecstatic. Not because they expected to win, but because they knew they had nailed it.
It was the last performance of the season, senior baritone player Tyler Haley said. We wanted to go all out.
After months of practice and preparation that started in July, the group, led by director John Pruitt, claimed the bands 23rd state title on Saturday.
Fort Mill faced 13 of the states best bands in a five-hour festival of elaborate and creative performances. York County bands swept the class 4A competition at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, solidifying their spots amid the states top ranks.
In a show titled The New World, Nation Ford High planted a flag on a makeshift moon, while Neil Armstrongs voice blared over speakers: One small step for man. One giant leap for mankind.
Northwestern Highs Purple Regiment stepped through life-size photo frames in a show titled Picture This, featuring music by Modest Mussorgsky, Tom Kelly and Billy Steinberg, and Mick Jagger.
With smoke billowing from a Mayan pyramid erected on the field, Rock Hill Highs Band of Distinction performed Prophecy, a musical take on the prediction that the world ends this year.
Clover High illuminated the field with glowing, golden stars as students performed their show Starlight.
Fort Mills show, Alchemy: From Iron to Gold, featured music from the Iron Man and Stardust movie soundtracks and Lux Aurumque by Eric Whitacre. With giant hammers and alchemic elements on display, the teens enacted the forging of iron, ending the show waving streaming, golden flags.
One of the judges scrawled remarks on Fort Mills score sheet: Wow, Wow, Wow, Wow! and, That was amazing! I about came out of the box!
Nation Ford, Fort Mills cross-town rival, took second place, followed by Northwestern in third and Rock Hill in fourth. Clover took seventh.
In class 3A, York Comprehensive High finished fifth and South Pointe High placed eighth. Lewisville High place sixth in class 1A. Andrew Jackson High in Lancaster placed eighth in class 2A.
It speaks well of music education in York County, said Chad Pence, a Fort Mill High assistant band director.
The right reasons
Though Saturday marked the end of Fort Mills marching season, the band plays on. After a final performance of Alchemy at a free show for the community tonight, concert season begins.
In February, Pruitt will begin rehearsals for the bands first international trip a march through the streets of Dublin, Ireland, in the St. Patricks Day Parade.
For many bands, the invitation would be a once-in-a-lifetime accolade.
In Fort Mill on Monday, nothing was bigger than the state championship win.
Honestly, I havent even been thinking about Ireland, senior marimba player Salaena Harris said.
Part of what makes the win so special is the context. The week before, Fort Mill finished fourth in the Upper State semifinals behind Northwestern, Rock Hill and Nation Ford, respectively.
The group didnt go into Saturdays competition seeking redemption, students said. But they agreed there was something more special about their championship show.
Everybody was hyped for the performance, senior Nick DAuria said.
We had more fun with it, said senior Tydus Mathis.
Pruitt saw it too.
The difference was just simply another week, he said. The students just literally never stop improving They were definitely performing their hearts out Saturday.
Ive never been more proud of young people than this year. They really were performing for the right reasons, for the art, for each other.
Area marching bands reached the top ranks this year. Heres a look at how they placed in the state championship competition on Saturday.