Sunday, September 6, 2009

Marching 100 calls on Tiger pride for reunion performance

Telegram Staff Writer

Once in band, always in band.
That's how they feel, the Belton High School alumni of the Belton Marching 100.
'I haven't touched the trombone in 35 years. I wasn't sure if I could still play,' said Donnie Carpenter, class of 1974. 'But the notes and positions came back to me right away, and it sounds like I remember it. My air power's not quite what it used to be, though.'
He's glad to be 'back at it.'
For the last month, he's been practicing with 89 other Marching 100 alums in preparation for the group's anniversary, which is set for Sept. 12 during the BHS football game at Tiger Stadium. 'There's going to be a special performance at halftime,' said coordinator Bobby Hilliard of Hewitt, bass drummer from the class of '74. 'There's 90 of us. We missed the 100 mark by a few cancellations.'
All dressed in red polo shirts, they'll be easy to spot at the game.
'Had to have a uniform,' Hilliard said. 'That's part of what makes a band a band. The shirts have the original Marching 100 logo on it.'
The reunion band consists of BHS alumni from the '60s and '70s. About 60 percent of them are from Texas; the others have flown in from Pennsylvania, Oregon, Colorado, Arizona and Arkansas.
'It didn't start out being this big of an event,' Hilliard said. 'At first it was just a handful of us getting together for our regular reunion. We usually just have a reception dinner and go to the game.'
But the 'small party' took on new life after Hilliard invited Richard Crain, director of the Marching 100 from 1965 to 1979. More than 175 alums said they wanted to attend the reception, saying the dinner should honor their teacher.
'Mr. Crain was a wonderful man,' said Sheila Alexander, trumpet player from the class of '76. 'He taught us respect and how be like a family. He never put you down and was always encouraging but he expected hard work, good grades in all subjects and 110 percent of our effort.'
Wonderful and strict: that's Mr. Crain in a nutshell, according to more than a dozen Marching 100 alums.
'He taught us not just about band but about life,' Hilliard said. 'He taught us how to be responsible and how to give 110 percent of whatever we do. He was teaching us how to be an adult, though most of us didn't realize it until we were grown and married.'
The band director, who now directs instrumental studies at Houston Baptist University and the orchestra at Spring Baptist Church, said he was delighted to accept Hilliard's invitation to the reunion party.
'It came as a very pleasant surprise,' Crain said. 'Belton was a big, wonderful part of my life. I'm very eager to come back. These alumni, they're terrific kids. Well, they're grown people now, but still terrific.'
Crain will arrive in Belton on Wednesday morning in time for the reception and will stay through Labor Day weekend.
There will be quite a bit of visiting to be sure, but on Thursday and Friday Crain's got some work to do.
'I've got to rehearse with the band,' Crain said. 'We'll have to see how their practice has come along and what we can do to make a great show.'
The job of choosing the music for the Sept. 12 show, of course, was laid in the hands of the director. So a couple of months ago, Crain sent his ex-students a list of several tunes that were popular in the '60s and '70s, including 'Grandioso,' 'Little Darling' and 'The Horse.'
Those works are what the reunion band has been practicing for the last month. James Whitis, director of instrumental activities at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and Marching 100 alum, has been serving as band director at the practices.
'The performance schedule won't be final until after we rehearse with Mr. Crain,' Hilliard said.
'And there's sure to be a few surprises,' said Mrs. Alexander.
But the goal is to get the Sept. 12 show 'just right.'
'It's a way to thank Mr. Crain for everything he did for us,' Hilliard said.
Mrs. Alexander agreed, saying 'He's done a lot for Belton - and his students.'
Barbara Richey, A clarinet player from the class of '72, conveys the message best with a fond memory from her senior year.
'There was this one night after practice when a bunch of us girls found a mud hole on the field. We started running sliding and squealing and had a bunch of fun until the lights went off. Then there was Mr. Crain's booming voice, 'Turn those lights back on.' And even though it was late, even though he was tired and had a wife and kids to go home to, he let us stay and finish our game. That's the kind of teacher Mr. Crain was.'

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