Marching band members from Millard North High School will have a little more spring in their step today.

The Mustangs were named 2016 state class AA champions at the Nebraska State Bandmasters Association State Marching Contest on Saturday night.

Millard North edged out Millard West for the top honor, marking the first time the winner wasn’t a Bellevue band.

“It feels incredible,” said sophomore color guard member Anna Schmidtke. “We’ve worked so hard. This has been such an amazing ride.”

Nearly 6,000 students in 61 marching bands performed Saturday in the annual contest, which took place at three sites across the state.

Omaha hosted bands that entered the competition side of the contest at Millard South’s Buell Stadium. The other sites, in Lincoln and Kearney, had a festival format, where judges gave bands a rating but bands were not ranked.

Directed by Ryan Placek, the Millard North band performed a show titled “Mandala.” It opened with a haunting flute solo and a burst of silver flags. Dressed in black bibbers with blue jackets and blue plumes, the 125-member band formed spirals and morphed a square into a diamond, winning caption awards for best music and best general effect.

Second-place Millard West won the award for best percussion. Its show theme was “Wrapped” and featured guard members in shimmering magenta and pink outfits wrapping the band in colorful fabric, even hiding the band under a big circle of silky fabric at the end.

Papillion-La Vista South took third with a show themed “Follow the Leader.” It featured 12 giant arrows and a finale in which the band formed an arrow point and spun it, leaving the whole band, guard and arrows all pointing in the same direction.

Bellevue East was fourth, winning best color guard and best visual for its show, “Inventions.” The color guard wore cinnamon bibbers and cream shirts, at one point waving lighted, colored strands. It featured luminous blue globes and a colorful lighted tower.

The Bellevue West High School band, a perennial winner in past years’ contests, did not compete. Instead, the band traveled to St. Louis this weekend for the Bands of America Super Regional.

Bellevue West has taken top honors at the Nebraska contest five out of six years since rankings began in 2010. Bellevue East took the top spot in 2013.

Rounding out the rankings from Saturday night were: 5. Omaha Burke; 6. Gretna; 7. Elkhorn South; 8. Millard South; 9. Elkhorn; 10. Norris; 11. Skutt Catholic; 12. Logan View; and 13. Ralston. Norris was named Class A champion. Logan View was Class C champion.

The grounds at Millard South became a colorful spectacle of sights and sounds throughout the day. For most bands, the state contest is the final performance of the year of a show they’ve been shaping since summer band camp, though a few will go on to march in parades and at college football bowl games.

Sarah Schrader, drum major and clarinet player, said she’s the only senior in Skutt’s marching band.

Skutt’s show theme was “Ascension,” which Schrader said was about life’s struggles, failure and success. The band performed it well, she said. “It was really good. It was a great show to end on.”

All the hard work came together, she said.

“There’s just this feeling that everything you’ve been working for since July has kind of all culminated in this one moment,” Schrader said.

Nancy Codling was at work in a parking lot with a busy group of Elkhorn South band boosters. The adults wore maroon shirts printed with the show’s theme: “Invictus.”

Their school’s show is based on a poem by William Ernest Henley, which includes the lines, “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”

The boosters were filling cups of water for the band and guard to drink on the way to the performance field.

Codling’s son, Gabe, is a senior snare drummer.

“I volunteer because I’m a marching band alum — 30,000 years ago,” Codling said. “The things the kids are learning are outstanding.”

With 132 kids and just two directors, “you have to have numerous volunteers to pull this off,” she said.

The boosters do everything from sewing buttons and flags to feeding the band.

The teens are good kids, the boosters said — up before school, putting in as many as 200 practice hours in a marching season. The kids are not just learning about band but about life, they said.

Todd Linnertz’ daughter, Cassie, is a sophomore in the Elkhorn South color guard. His son, Ben, is a senior trumpet player for Elkhorn South.

“He will probably never pick up his instrument again after this year, but the things that he has learned along the way, for the four years that he’s been in the program, he will take with him for the rest of his life,” Linnertz said.

The staging area, a parking lot, was busy with activity. Rental truck lifts whined as a crew of adults from Bellevue East unloaded heavy show pieces and instruments. Guard members practiced, their flags glowing brilliantly in the bright sunshine.

Four girls from Greta High School rolled four homemade railroad crossing arms to join their band warming up.

The Gretna show theme was “Go West! The Transcontinental Railroad.”

The girls were hoping that a light afternoon breeze stayed that way because strong winds make the arms hard to handle. If you pull them the wrong way, they can tip.

Millard West sousaphone player Lukas Stelzle said that stepping out on the field at a big competition is “a rush for sure.”

“You get nervous at times,” he said, “but hopefully it’s the good kind of nervous that helps you perform a little bit better.”, 402-444-1077

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Joe covers education for The World-Herald, focusing on pre-kindergarten through high school. Phone: 402-444-1077.

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