COVID-19 guidelines mean no school band away game travel to start the season

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — In normal times, members of the Parkersburg High School Big Red Band…

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — In normal times, members of the Parkersburg High School Big Red Band would be preparing to pack up to head to Cabell County’s Spring Valley High School to support the Parkersburg High football team in its season opener on Friday.

Because of COVID-19, though, band members will have to wait until the first scheduled home game for Parkersburg High on Sept. 25 against Cabell-Midland High School.

Even then, what the band is allowed to do is limited.

Dan White

“We’re going to attempt to do a short field show. We’re going to stand and play a little bit, but we will be doing some movement,” said Dan White who is starting his 15th season as the director of the PHS Big Red Band.

“With the short amount of time that we have to get it ready, we’re going to do the best that we can this year and I think the people in the community will understand. We’ve all been under restraints of things that we can do and we can’t do even in regular jobs.”

The number of band members he instructs is down to about 60 this year from normal participation of between 80 and 90 students.

Members of the marching band at Clay County High School won’t take the field until Sept. 18 with 20 members, a decline from the 60 or so Morgan Dolly, now in her third school year as band director at Clay High, was expecting in early March when schools closed in the pandemic.

During August practices, she has largely kept band sections separated.

Morgan Dolly

“I would split winds away from the percussion and colorguard away from everyone else. I would have my drum major working with one part and I’d be working with one and the colorguard coach would be working with them,” Dolly said.

Some kind of normalcy was Dolly’s goal during a time of widespread anxiety.

“These kids need some normalcy, especially being out of school for so long and not being around their friends or teachers, so you’ve just got to be kind of be strong for them, but in the background everyone’s really nervous about everything.”

Under guidelines from the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission, middle and high school marching bands are permitted at home games only this fall.

Pre-game and halftime shows are permitted, but only percussion sections are allowed to play during games. Other stand tunes, including fight songs, are prohibited.

Separate seating areas with social distancing, a diamond formation was what the WVSSAC recommended, must be established for band members and their parents and families.

Face coverings are required for band members when they are not performing, though there is also a separate recommendation that face coverings be worn even while performing when possible.

“They make special masks for players that open up in the front and you can play your instruments through those and then, when you’re done, you close them back up and, of course, brass instruments they have bell covers for too,” said White.

Bell covers were also recommended.

White estimated face and instrument coverings for both the Parkersburg High marching band and concert band would cost $1,000. He said there were many bands that were struggling to find the funds to cover the additional expenses.

Originally, the WVSSAC announced in August bands would not be allowed at games but that decision was changed under instructions from Governor Jim Justice.

Along with a shorter game performance schedule, middle and high school bands have also seen parades, competitions and other events canceled because of COVID-19 for at least the next few months.

White said the plan was to keep working.

“My students are wanting to play and they come ready to play and that’s what we’ve been doing as best we can,” said White.

Dolly said allowing students to play on, in whatever form, is especially important right now.

“Music is always going to be there for you no matter what — even if it’s virtual,” Dolly said.