Southern Golden Rams Marching Band Wins Atlantic Coast Championship

Nov 08, 2017
Courtesy of: John Dondero

It was cool, clammy and rainy, and prior to going out on the field at Hershey Stadium in Pennsylvania, the Southern Regional High School Golden Rams Marching Band practiced with their rain gear on. About 10 minutes before taking the field, band director Johnny Dondero told his crew to go without the rain gear.

“Last minute, our director decided we should ditch the rain jackets,” said drum major and senior Matt Kokai, the field general who conducted the Golden Rams to their sixth Tournament of Bands Atlantic Coast Championship title in program history on Oct. 29. “So, that’s what we did. It was pouring. It was cold. I had water going down my back. And it was crazy how well we did given how terrible the conditions were.”

Having performed their program “What Lies Within” – a story of overcoming our inner demons and the evil that surrounds us in the world – during plenty of halftimes at home football games and other competitions this season, the Golden Rams took the big stage and essentially threw down the hammer. They scored 97.0 in what was their final performance of the fall, getting by Allegany High School of Maryland, which tallied a 96.65 to finish as the runner-up.

“It was breathtaking,” Kokai said. “Seeing them perform like that and really understanding how everything went together, giving it everything they had to make it happen, was really special, especially because it was my last time doing it.

“And later, as they announced the order of finish and the scores, it was tense. But when they got to second place and we were the only ones left to be announced, we just started crying because it was so amazing to win after being here three years without winning.”

Southern last captured the Atlantic Coast Championship in 2013, when the current group of 29 seniors were eighth-graders. The Rams also won the title in 2011 and scored a three-peat in 2003, 2004 and 2005.

“We put in a lot of hours doing that, and it’s not all because we want to win trophies and bring home the big banner,” said alto sax player and senior Owen LaRocca. “They’re nice, but we’re all in this because we love what we do. And it showed in that final performance. The scores come down to six people who write them down on a piece of paper, but for them to see our product, the story we told, and recognize it in such a way, was really nice. It was a shock!”

Emily Janson – one of the seniors as part of the color guard and the individual whose role in the program was to help wrangle the demons, encourage change and get the warring parties together to a place of peace – described the victory as “an amazing experience.”

“It was a fulfilling moment,” she said. “When that last note was played and everything had just worked out and fit together, I knew we did it. It was so amazing! It was memorable. It was a huge accomplishment for us.”

Not long after returning from Hershey, at just about 11:30 p.m., Dondero posted his initial thoughts to Facebook.

“In the rain, in the cold, they laid it all out on the field,” he said. “What really sticks out to me is the response from these kids to today’s weather. They did so much more than anyone could have asked for, and I am so lucky to get to work with them. An amazing group of TOB Atlantic Coast Champions!”

— David Biggy

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