Watkins Memorial Band History
In Instrumental music has been an important part of Watkins Memorial High School since the school first opened its doors in 1955, after the former Pataskala, Etna, and Kirkersville high schools were consolidated into the newly-created Southwest Licking Local School District. Early offerings, under the direction of Mr. Leslie Mesler, afforded students the opportunity to participate in Marching, Concert, Cadet, and Dance band groups. The Marching Band's earliest identity was very much in the military band style, with the members outfitted in black ROTC uniforms with white shirts and black ties beneath and cadet style hats.
The 1970's brought changes to the band program, which was now made up of marching band, symphonic band, jazz band, and pep band. The Marching Warriors, now performing more contemporary music under the direction of Mr. Lupidi and Mr. Stevens, ditched their ROTC uniforms for the first time since the school's opening. The band would now be outfitted in a script "WM" white and gold bib over black pants and jackets, with each member wearing a tall, black Busby hat. The 1970's saw the band program starting to travel outside of Ohio to perform, including trips to Orlando to perform at the newly-opened Walt Disney World resort. Before the decade would end, Mr. Jim Morgan would take the reins of the band program and start shaping it into what we recognize today. In 1978, Mr. Morgan began hosting the Mid Ohio Classic band competition at Watkins Memorial, a tradition that has carried on for more than 40 years.
The 1980's saw another change to the Marching Warriors' uniform, as the band took on a thoroughly modern look with the group in V-neck tops of varying colors (winds in gold, percussion in black) paired with black Aussie hats. The band program grew throughout the 80's to the largest numbers in school history up to that point. The marching band became to be known as "big gold" to opposing Licking County League schools as the band outnumbered nearly all of their county rivals. Before the 1980's came to an end, Mr. Morgan would retire after 45 years in education and having left a profound impact on instrumental music at Watkins Memorial. Mr. Larry Klabunde briefly lead the band program before departing for Worthington High School. In 1989, Tom Young was tapped to take over the program, a position he would hold for nearly 25 years.
The 1990's began with another major change to the marching band uniform, with the group sporting white corps style jackets with a black and gold sash, black pants, and black shako hats with white plumes in 1992. Under Mr. Young's direction, both the marching and concert bands enjoyed great success at OMEA adjudicated events and the jazz ensemble earned acclaim at jazz festivals both near and far. Mr. Young also introduced the group to the Bands of America circuit where the band became a staple of BOA finals in Indianapolis for much of the decade. The bands were traveling regularly, performing and competing in events in Orlando and Ft. Myers, Florida, Toronto, Canada, Chicago, Illinois, and Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
As the new millennium began, the band program had expanded to include a Dixieland ensemble and music technology classes in addition to the traditional bands. New band rooms at both the high school and middle school buildings opened in 2001 which allowed space for the bands to grow to their current size. In late 2002, the marching and symphonic bands traveled to London, England to represent Ohio in the London 2003 New Year's Day Parade. This trip saw the Watkins Memorial symphonic band perform a concert in the historic Westminster Central Hall, as the Marching Warriors performed for more than one million spectators through the streets of London on New Year's Day. In 2009, the eighteen-year-old marching band uniforms were retired as the band purchased new uniforms featuring a large, gold "W" bisecting a white and black jacket and black pants. Around this same time, the marching band carved out a niche presenting shows that reflected a geographical or cultural theme. The Pyramids, The Rise and Fall of Rome, The Far East, Native Rituals, Tribal Effect, and Desert Winds all helped secure some of the highest competitive scores in school history.
After the 2013-14 school year, Mr. Young retired from the program, briefly passing the baton to Mr. Ken Will and Mr. Ken Hoffman. In 2015, Mr. Robert Davis was named Director of Bands at Watkins Memorial High School. In 2019 Mrs. Stephanie Smiley joined the program as Associate Director of Bands, focusing on beginning bands and middle school ensembles. Additional band staff includes Mr. Ross Musick, Director of Percussion, and Mrs. Michelle Jones, who leads our guard. In the spring of 2017, Watkins Memorial's Wind Ensemble traveled to Chicago, Illinois to perform and attend educational clinics.
Since the current OMEA State Marching Band Finals format was created in 1980 the Marching Warriors have appeared at the event 31 times, most recently with their program "The Purpose of You" in October of 2021 (OMEA State Finals did not take place in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic). In 2017, the band participated in their first ever Mid States Band Association competition at Bellbrook High School near Dayton. In 2017 and 2018, the band began participating in the Mid States Band Association (MSBA) circuit, finishing 3rd overall at the 2018 Bellbrook Invitational in 2018. The band also participated in their first ever MSBA Finals event in 2018, finishing 11th in the AAAA class against bands from Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana.
In early 2019, the band program took delivery of brand new marching band uniforms from DeMoulin Bros. The new uniforms feature a jacket with a white shoulder span and a placard drop of gold fading up to white crossed by three black stripes and three gold buttons opposite a field of black. A bold spear logo adorns the chest and gauntlets fade from a gold upper to a white lower, paired with white gloves. The jackets are worn with black bibbers, black shakos with gold trim and a spear, and bright gold plumes.
To begin the 2021-2022 school year, Watkins Memorial moved into a brand new, 235,000 square foot facility. The new building features a large music suite, multiple rehearsal halls, administrative spaces, and a state-of-the-art 750-seat Performing Arts Center.
We are deeply and sincerely appreciative for the support of our administrators, our board of education members, our band families, our athletic department, our corporate sponsors, and the members of this community. It's been a great 60+ years for music in the Southwest Licking community, and we're looking forward to building for the next 60+.
OMEA State Marching Band Finals appearances: