“Exhilarating” and “wonderful” were some of the words used to describe the Tullahoma High School Band’s experience in Knoxville last weekend when they performed in Neyland Stadium with the University of Tennessee Pride of the Southland Band.

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The Tullahoma High School Marching Band marches to Neyland Stadium Saturday, Sept. 7, using the same route the University of Tennessee Pride of the Southland Marching Band uses each week.

The band was invited in May to perform with The Pride in Knoxville during the game against Brigham Young University.

According to Dr. Don Ryder, the director of bands for UTK, The Pride invites one or two high school bands to perform with them every other year as a special treat. According to comments from Ryder in May, the opportunity serves as a special visit for the bands, as well as a recruiting tool for the university band program.

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THS Band Field Commander Aubrey Shearin conducts during an outdoor rehearsal in Knoxville. The band had just one marching rehearsal at noon Saturday, Sept. 7, before they performed in Neyland Stadium in front of more than 90,000 people.

THS Band Director Justin Scott said the entire experience was “great” and that the band students “had a blast” getting to experience a college game day like The Pride for the first time.

“It was awesome,” he said of the weekend.

Assistant Band Director Lisa Burden agreed, calling the weekend “awesome,” “excellent” and “wonderful.”

“I think that was the most wonderful experience I’ve had as a band director,” she said. “Letting the kids have an opportunity like that is second to none. I don’t think it’s an experience any of us will ever forget.”

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The Pride of the Southland Marching Band always rehearses the halftime show on game day. The THS Band got a taste of what that game day rehearsal is like Saturday, Sept. 7.

The band spent the whole of Saturday with The Pride, beginning with a single rehearsal of the halftime show and ending with a performance in the stands during the double overtime loss to the BYU Cougars.


From the students

THS Band members from every grade enjoyed the experience, calling the weekend a great learning experience.

Senior tuba player Dalton Parkerson said the weekend was “one of the more fun experiences I’ve had with the band.”

The entire weekend was so amazing he didn’t have words.

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The THS Band practices with the Pride of the Southland Marching Band during a single marching rehearsal the day of the football game.

“I can’t really put my finger on it,” he said.

One thing he particularly liked about the weekend was seeing how quickly The Pride adapts. While the THS Band learns one halftime show for the entire season, The Pride moves much quicker than that.

“It’s a lot different,” he said. “They’re learning a new show every week.”

Senior mellophone player Douglas Tilley also admired the way The Pride functions on a game day.

“It was really professional,” Douglas said of the game day rehearsal. “They were very quick and snappy with what they did. It was very impressive, the way they conducted themselves during rehearsal. It was a really cool learning experience for what to expect.”

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THS Band Director Justin Scott conducts the combined bands during a marching rehearsal Saturday, Sept. 7.

Dalton also liked having a new perspective on a game day in Knoxville. Calling himself a “whole hearted” Vol fan, he said the experience Saturday added a new layer to what goes into the gameday atmosphere for The Pride.

“It was definitely different than watching it in the stands as a normal UT fan,” he said. “Being there with all the other UT fans was a lot of fun, and then getting to play with the band just made it even better because we got to feel like college students, at least for a day.”

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The THS Band was joined by the Seymour High School Marching Band that day. 

Sophomore trumpet player Justin Sells also enjoyed getting a new perspective on a Saturday in Neyland Stadium. Justin, another diehard UT fan, said he enjoyed being able to see the field from down below, as well as seeing his typical seats in the stadium from the field.

“It was exhilarating just being on the field,” he said, “looking up and being able to point out where I usually sit in the stands and just seeing it from that point of view.

The game day experience was extra special for freshman mellophone player Sophie Ponder, who is new to the marching band scene.

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The THS Band takes to the field Saturday, Sept. 7.

Sophie said the weekend was a “good experience” for her as a freshman, because she was able to compare the marching style she only recently learned to what a more professional organization does.

“Looking at what we do and comparing it to the college [students], it’s interesting,” she said. “They do things a lot more fast paced and strict, and it was good to experience that.”

Sophie added that the band met “a lot of new people” and ended up making “a lot of new friends” during the weekend.

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The THS Band performing a patriotic halftime show with the Pride of the Southland Marching Band Saturday, Sept. 7.

“We learned a lot from it,” she said.


Community support

Burden said she was touched by how much support the band received during the day.

“In the stadium, when we were welcomed [at halftime], you could tell how many people came from Tullahoma,” she said.

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The THS Band performs with the Pride of the Southland Marching Band Saturday, Sept. 7.

Referencing the loud applause the THS Band received during the halftime performance, Burden said the cheers helped make the experience more special for the students.

That support wasn’t just seen or heard from the stadium, she added.

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Aubrey Shearin and THS Assistant Band Director Lisa Burden cheer on the Vols during overtime Saturday, Sept. 7.

“I can tell you on the [parade] route … there were a ton of Tullahoma people there to support the band, and that’s just proof of how special and unique our community is,” she said. “I’ll never forget it. I don’t think the kids will ever forget it.”

Erin McCullough may be reached at emccullough@tullahomanews.com.