Tricia Bertke knows the feeling of standing in front of the Olentangy Liberty High School marching band when it's announced over the PA that the band had earned a "1" at Ohio Music Education Association state competition.

And she wants it again -- even more this time.

The senior field commander was in the same role last year, but admitted she felt a little out of place among the band's then-senior leaders when celebrating earning a top mark in the contest.

"You always aim for that '1' at the end of the season, but I want to be out there (this year) with my senior friends," Bertke said. "Our seniors deserve it, to be thought of as good or better than previous years."

The sustained success doesn't come by accident. Director Travis Hicks' charges begin their work with three weeks of camp in the summer, leading up to the start of the school year, with the percussion and color guard starting even earlier.

"The kids are in great shape right now," Hicks said late last month amid a busy band room, filled with students preparing for the Aug. 30 season-opening game at home.

The band performs an abridged version of its competition show -- this year's is titled "Valley of the Kings" and features original music, as well as movement and other effects, with an Egyptian theme -- for its halftime performances. Due to time constraints, the full version is performed only at marching-band competitions.

"The competitions, that's what we do for us," Hicks said. "The games are fun for our kids, too, but there's so much more, with creating excitement for the fans and the student section, being a support system for the (football) team and the community."

Hicks said the 116-member group will perform at four competitions this year, including the Licking Heights Pageant of Bands on Sept. 14.

"I love this year's show. It's really driving and percussive, and there are a lot of interesting body movements we've spent a lot of time working on," Bertke said.

"The music is really challenging," said senior snare drummer Simon Slagle. "Of course you want to be good and do well, but mostly I just want to make sure everyone is having fun."

Bertke said this year's senior class is working hard to make all of those things happen, both in and out of rehearsal. That's among the benefits of being upperclassmen, she said, acknowledging that, at the same time, there's some sadness knowing it's your final season.

"This is happening," she said with a laugh, adding, with less enthusiasm, "It went so fast."

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