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Watch now: High school bands march for top title at state championship in Normal

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Over 3,000 students and close to 7,000 spectators from across the state came to Hancock Stadium in Normal on Saturday for the Illinois State Marching Band Championships. READ MORE HERE.

NORMAL — It’s a contest that’s 50 years in the making.

Thousands of students and families from across the state came to Hancock Stadium on Saturday for the Illinois State Marching Band Championships. The event was first titled "ISU Band Day" in 1971 and it took on its current format in 2014.

The contest calls for 42 high school marching bands to compete for a spot among 15 finalists. Those select few bands returned to the field Saturday evening for their chance to be crowned grand champion.

Some bands were big. Others were small. But the audience still cheered for them all.

After all, this was the pinnacle of the season for the marching students, said Illinois State University Director of Bands Tony Marinello.

There was no competition in 2020, so the director said that made this year even more special.

“The spirits are so high this year, which is fantastic to see,” Marinello said.

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The Bloomington High School Marching Raiders perform Saturday at Hancock Stadium for the Illinois State Marching Band Championships.

Paris High School’s band kicked off the competition at 7:02 a.m. Saturday. The director said he ran onto the field and yelled out his congratulations to the performers for “resurrecting” the competition.

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The Normal Marching Band,  including students from Normal Community and Normal West high schools, performs Saturday at Hancock Stadium for the Illinois State Marching Band Championships.

Marinello said students were doing a really great job, and Saturday’s environment was both competitive and supportive.

“Every band gets cheered on, gets clapped for,” he said. “We’re so happy that they’re all here and they get to perform in this amazing stadium.”

Marinello said over 3,000 students performed at the stadium in Normal and close to 7,000 audience members were there. By Saturday afternoon, the east bleachers were at least three-quarters full.

The band from University High School in Normal was the second to take the field after Paris. Bloomington High School later placed third in Division 4-A after their Saturday morning performance. Olympia High School also marched Saturday morning in Division 2-A.

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The Normal Marching Band performs Saturday at Hancock Stadium for the Illinois State Marching Band Championships.

With their show titled "The NEXT Step," BHS’s Marching Raiders played “Phobos” by Darcy James, “Argue’s Secret Society Escape” by Hans Zimmer, and “A Long December” by Counting Crows.

The Normal Marching Band, including students from Normal Community and Normal West high schools, kicked off their show named “Impressions” with the tracks “Rhapsody in Blue” and “An American in Paris,” both written by George Gershwin, and finished with “La Vie en Rose” by Edith Piaf.

Final contest results were not available by press time.

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The Bloomington High School Marching Raiders perform Saturday at Hancock Stadium for the Illinois State Marching Band Championships.

Donald and Stacey Wiggins said they felt very proud of their daughter, Myrissa, who is a drum major for BHS.

Given that both parents are ISU alumni, they said they were impressed seeing the BHS band at Hancock Stadium.

“I loved the enthusiasm,” Donald said, adding that everybody cheered for each other’s bands.

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The Bloomington High School Marching Raiders perform Saturday at Hancock Stadium for the Illinois State Marching Band Championships.

Stan Viets drove from Toluca Saturday to see his grandchild perform with the Illinois Valley Central High School band out of Chillicothe.

“They did fantastic,” he said. “They’re on their way now to Champaign for another competition.

“If they make the finals, they’ll have to come back here.”

Tom Hedden came out to see his son play tuba with the Canton High School band.

“Watching them from day one of band (class) this year till now,” he said,” they’ve improved 1,000%, they get better every time they go out.”

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The Marian Catholic High School Marching Band performs Saturday at Hancock Stadium for the Illinois State Marching Band Championships.

Melvin and Lisa Mullins drove down from South Holland to see their daughter on the color guard with Marian Catholic High School in Chicago Heights.

Melvin said he liked seeing the artistry come together with the music, and Lisa agreed she was impressed by the program.

“Good work ethic, it instills in them to be on time, and their work won't be in vain,” Lisa Mullins said. “It's very long hours, but I think that it will pay off for the future.”

As a former marching band student herself, Gail Staunton of Normal told The Pantagraph she was having a great time hearing the music.

“The big schools are always the loudest and the best,” she said.

She recalled two years back when the John Hersey High School band performed.

“They had no costumes, no props, they played well and they marched well and they came in first in their division,” Staunton said.

Invasive jumping worms were first spotted in Wisconsin in 2014 and have reached Illinois, and likely Macon County.

Contact Brendan Denison at (309) 820-3238. Follow Brendan Denison on Twitter: @BrendanDenison

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