Marching to Success: Panther band wins Lower State, eyes State

Student leaders of the Batesburg-Leesville Panther Band gather to celebrate the band’s 1st place finish in the Class 1A Lower State Marching Band Championship. (Photo courtesy of Lexington Three Schools)

For the second year in a row, the Batesburg-Leesville High School Panther Band has captured the Class 1A Lower State Marching Band Championship.

The band finished first place overall last Saturday afternoon at Westwood High in Blythewood. The biggest difference between last season’s championship and this latest accolade was the marching – or rather, the lack thereof.

“This past Saturday was the first time in the history of the South Carolina Band Directors Association that Lower State was actually held indoors,” said Josh Brown, band director at Batesburg-Leesville High.

The bands competing at Westwood High moved into the school’s auditorium as heavy rains from the approaching remnants of Tropical Storm Nestor raked across Georgia into the Palmetto State. The limited space forced participating bands to focus more on the musicianship of their players and less on the choreography, props and other visual elements that have become so much a part of modern-day marching band competition.

“It was definitely a learning curve for all of us,” Mr. Brown said. “It was groundbreaking in its own way, and we really did have to lean on how well our musicians could play. The fact that we were still able to pull it off, we had to make changes literally the day before and the day of, and it really shows how good our students are and how well they respond to change.”

The current Panther Band is made up of about 45 musicians and flag corps members. This year’s program is called “Unfrozen,” which normally incorporates stunning visual components into the performance.

“The concept behind the show is, the band starts out and they’re basically getting cold, and things are becoming frozen,” Mr. Brown said. “By the middle of the show, the band is completely frozen whenever we do a flyover flag that covers the entire band in ice. Then, at the end of the show, everything starts to warm up and turn into Spring. The music really shows how the band comes back to life after having been frozen.”

With the Lower State trophy in hand, along with smaller trophies for Music and Overall Effect, the Panther Band has earned the right to compete for the 1A State Championship this Saturday night at Chapin High. They will perform in prime-time, at 8:45 p.m., against a field of 15 other bands from across the state.

“This really shows how the program has grown as far as numbers and quality,” Mr. Brown said. “I’m very, very proud of our students, our staff and our faculty.”

The Batesburg-Leesville Panther Band has a rich history of competition success. The school won back-to-back Class 1A State Championships in 2010 and 2011, and in 2008, the program competed in Class 2A and took the state title.

Mr. Brown also credited the support of the school’s band booster program and others in the community.

“Throughout the entire year, our band program has had to work extremely hard. They’ve had to overcome many, many challenges – including the weather obviously,” he said. “But as the season has gone on, they have grown, both in how well they perform and also how mature they are. They’ve grown a lot as individuals.”

In addition to its Lower State title, the Batesburg-Leesville corps of musicians has earned top honors at the Summerville Gus Moody Invitational and the River Bluff Midlands Marching Classic this season.

Story by Tony Baughman / Published October 24, 2019