With contests nixed, performances in doubt, Watterson band will focus on learning in 2020

JIM FISCHER
editorial@thisweeknews.com
Bishop Watterson High School students Nick Marszal, 17, and Lucia Cherok, 16, rehearse during band practice Aug. 12 outside the school in Clintonville. The marching band is looking at 2020-21 as a year to learn, rather than focusing on performances, which may or may not be feasible, leaders say.

It almost goes without saying these days, but Mike Renzi has never experienced a summer quite like this one.

This time of year, the Bishop Watterson High School band director typically is preparing his charges for competition performances and halftime entertainment, but some of those things already have been canceled -- Ohio Music Education Association and MidStates Band Association already have called off competitions for the season -- and others are in doubt.

But Renzi, who has taught for 35 years, including 31 at Watterson, is leading rehearsals as the start of school approaches, albeit exclusively outdoors, in small groups, physically distanced and, when possible, masked.

"We're following through with a lot of the same stuff we would normally do," Renzi said. "We've focused on developing as leaders, working on fundamentals, instilling hard work, keeping things positive."

This year's 58-member marching band includes one of the school's largest freshman classes in recent years, Renzi said, and no lost members among upperclassmen.

"Of course, we were all disappointed at first, but our parents and, especially, our kids all wanted to do this," he said. "Our approach has changed without being forced to get a show on the field. We're teaching differently -- maybe better, even after 35 years."

"It's very different, especially for seniors, and we were bummed out at first," senior field commander Ethan Redelberger said. "But we committed to focus on this year being a building year for everyone who will be in the band next year."

Renzi said the added layer of safety and health concerns is something his student leaders were ready for, even if it goes against their nature.

"Band is a social thing. Our kids like to hug; we do talks, and because we're allowed to pray, we do that, too," Renzi said. "So we have to do our best to keep that same attitude of closeness while doing what we need to do to keep everyone healthy."

"When you see the impact you have on the freshmen, who are coming in and making friends and learning how we do things, it feels like you're making a difference. You can see the value it has," Redelberger said.

Renzi said assistant director Nathan Graham has modified the marching formations in the show to allow for proper distancing and said the band still plans to stage portions of the show they had planned for this year.

Renzi also said he's holding out hope that the band will be able to perform for the public this year, in some form.

"We want the kids to invest in the show," he said. "We're sort of keeping the idea of pushing forward as if we are going to perform, and they're all responding well."

"We can't just take off a year," Redelberger said, "so we're using the show to teach."

"I've always been a proponent of the idea that band is more than just marching and playing," Renzi said. "That hasn't changed."

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Bishop Watterson High School students (from left) Isaac Nguyen, 15, Rosemary Kay, 16, and Colin Thomas, 15, rehearse Aug. 12 outside the school.