The flag girls of Kearney Catholic High School give it their best whirl Saturday at the state contest at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.

Silky flags whipped, drums pulsed and high school musicians strutted Saturday at the 32nd Annual Nebraska State Bandmasters Association Marching Band Contest.

Sixty-two bands and nearly 6,000 students were involved, performing and competing at three locations across the state: Millard South High School, Lincoln’s Seacrest Field and the University of Nebraska at Kearney.

Bellevue West High School was judged state champion among many of the state’s largest schools that competed at Millard South’s Buell Field.

“I’m really excited,” said Sophie Otto, a senior marimba player for the 191-member Marching Thunderbirds band. “Our mentality was just come out and leave everything on the field. It’s our last performance, we really wanted to come on strong, and we definitely did that.”

Bellevue West also won awards for best visual effect and best general effect. A highlight from their show, “Cathedrals,” occurred when the band rearranged wooden benches into a giant cross on the field.

“A big part of our show was trying to emotionally connect with the audience,” Otto said.

The show was directed by Kyle Haugen and Marques Eckhoff.

The band from Papillion-­La Vista South High soared to new heights with its show, “Out of This World,” taking second place in the contest and awards for best music and best color guard. Papillion-La Vista South is directed by Ron Hardin and Lindsay Wilson.

Millard West took third place.

Bellevue East, which took fourth, received the award for best percussion.

The contest marks the end of marching season for most bands.

The annual event is a showcase for creativity and musicianship, a time when parents lug heavy equipment and props, volunteer at snack bars, beam proudly, or, in the case of Beverly Taylor, get a little teary-eyed.

The day marked the last band show for her grandson, Ryan Taylor, a senior alto sax player at Millard North.

“I have been crying all year,” said Taylor, who with her husband, Ron Taylor, wore black Millard North band shirts with this year’s show theme: “Follow Your Dreams.”

The Taylors have been following the band all season.

“It’s amazing how the sound of the band has improved, and their skills,” she said.

Ryan has benefited personally, she said.

“Ryan’s gotten a lot of discipline, and he’s learned about team work. He never really liked sports. And he’s made some of the most wonderful friends.”

A friend of the Taylors, Tina Dean, was also at the contest to watch her freshman daughter, Patricia, a trumpet player in the Millard South band.

Their theme was “Not By Bread Alone.”

The kids were dressed like paupers, and the band played the selections “Children of Sanchez,” “Lullabye” and “Bellavia.”

Dean said band strengthens kids.

“It gives them a bit of obedience and dedication, because they put many hours in,” she said.

At the snack bar, parent Marcie Spivack was volunteering. Spivack’s son Jacob is a sophomore sousaphone player in the Millard North band.

“Don’t ask me how to spell it. Starts with an ‘s,’ ends with a phone,” she said.

Spivack joined with other parents to raise money for Millard schools by selling M&Ms, chips and popcorn and other treats. It’s her second year volunteering.

She brought a comfy padded chair to take the load off her tired feet. Her favorite part of working at the snack bar is how kids and parents from different bands pitch in. By participating in band, kids learn good life skills, she said.

“Respect is one of them. They sit and listen to other bands, and they clap for them. They’re happy when they do good, and they’re sad when they don’t. And those are life skills.”

Several flute players from Elkhorn High School said it’s sort of bittersweet to see the season end.

They’re OK with having their early mornings back: no more practices at the crack of dawn.

But it means seniors are moving on.

Rachel Spooner, a junior, said marching band is “really just about people who are in love with music. We’re kind of like a family, almost. The way we connect and we bond with each other.”

Contact the writer: 402-444-1077,

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