ST. HELENS — The students of the St. Helens High School Marching Band and Color Guard put their best feet forward this weekend at Pacific Northwest circuit championships in Eugene.
"This competition is as big as it gets," said junior saxophonist Josh Hooker about the Northwest Association for Performing Arts Championship on Oct. 30.
"The Eugene competition was kind of like the world series or super bowl for marching band," said band patron and parent Julie Lipchitz.
At the last practice of the season on Oct. 29, the band kept in sync: walking forward so many paces, then back so many paces, all in a perfectly timed mass.
The color guard performers were reminded to keep count as they flung their flags up and around in unison. Drum majors junior Olivia Sorensen and senior Kasey Helwig patrolled around the marching group, making sure eyes were up and legs were pointed to the right on the designated beat.
Although the SHHS band did not make it into the finals at the NWAPA Championship at Autzen Stadium, the Lions did well in their division.
The group was awarded 16th place out of the 32 bands that competed and won third place in the band's Single A division (out of 10 bands).
Divisions are based on band size — and with 55 members, the SHHS band is one of the smaller groups. Schools that advanced to the finals boasted bands twice the size of the SHHS band.
But competing against groups of similar size, the Lions also won best auxiliary (for the color guard's performance) and visual (for marching) in their division.
"We have done really well this year," said band director Noelle Freshner.
This year's arrangement was a 1950s original compilation called "Seasons in the Park." The band wore '50s-style business suits and used old-timey street lamps and park benches as props to set the mood.
Preceding the championship, the Lions played in several northwest band competitions, usually placing among the top three in their division.
But all these accolades don't just fall out of the air.
The band participates in competitions most Saturdays during the fall and practices for three hours twice a week on top of daily band class.
Before the season even begins, the students are away at camp practicing for two weeks.
To keep fresh and to fine-tune the performance throughout the season, the band plays in the stands during home football games, and then performs with the color guard on the field at halftime.
And with a third-place division spot, it looks like all this work paid off.