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The end of October also brought the completion of the Baldwin High School Band of the Braves’ 2019 marching season, and the band director says this was the best season yet under his watch.

And it’s with good reason, too. The group hosted one competition and traveled to three others around the state, improving at each one along the way. At its final two competitions the Band of the Braves finished first in its class in every category (overall band, percussion, drum major and color guard) and received a superior ratings (the highest distinction given) across the board. 

Preparation for the 2019 season began back in conditions completely opposite to what is being experienced in the state now temperature-wise. Afternoon summer showers put a damper on outdoor drill rehearsals, really putting the program a week behind schedule once the Oconee Classic (OC) rolled around.

“We had a lot of rain and a lot of blistering hot days, so we were probably later than usual in getting our entire halftime show on the field,” said James McMillan who is in his fourth year as BHS band director. “In fact, our first time running the entire show in front of an audience was at the Oconee Classic. I really felt like that was a turning point for us. We received a standing ovation at the OC, which was a pretty big deal for the kids.”

Being the host school, the Band of the Braves played to the large Oconee Classic crowd but was not figured into the overall competition. Still, it was a great final primer before McMillan’s program hit the road throughout October for competitions in Warner Robins and Blackshear, located in southwest Georgia. Speaking of the Oconee Classic, McMillan says the annual local competition continues to get better and better at a time when other programs are considering shutting down their home events due to lack of participation. That hasn’t been a problem for the OC as its had around 15 competing bands in each of the last four years, making it still a more than viable fundraiser for the program.

“We got lots of great feedback about the OC this year,” said McMillan. “That’s honestly part of the reason our event continues. We’re still making money and profiting from our event and we’re still bringing in big numbers.”

With numbers down from previous years, BHS competed as a Single A band at each event. Band classifications at competitions are different from GHSA athletic events. Even though Baldwin is a Class 4A school in athletics, bands use the number of wind players a band has rather than the number of students in the school to determine classification. With those lower participation numbers, the band’s credo became “smaller, cleaner, faster” and that’s exactly how it performed. 

The entire season culminated at the Heart of Georgia marching competition held in Warner Robins last weekend. Fresh off straight superior ratings at the Sound of Silver competition the week prior, the Band of the Braves orchestrated its best performance of the year to replicate those ratings and first place finishes across every category. 

“We like to talk about having the best run, regardless of if we win or don’t win,” McMillan said. “If we can put together the best run, we’ve achieved our goal. My assistant and I told the kids after we got done performing at the Heart of Georgia that the awards didn’t matter because they just had the best run of the year.”

As for the future, the Band of the Braves will join other high school marching programs from around the country in performing at the 2020 Sugar Bowl, slated for Jan. 1, 2020 in New Orleans, Louisiana. McMillan recently handed out the sheet music for that upcoming performance to his students and replaced regular marching band rehearsals with Sugar Bowl rehearsals to get his students ready. 

Further down the line, the band director believes the program’s numbers being lower than normal is just a one-year stint as he’s not losing many seniors while also expecting a big crop of eighth-graders to join up next year.

“I think this way we can slowly start to grow the program as far as numbers go and that way the quality still stays really high because that’s always been the No. 1 focus.”

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