Woodwinds of change: KMEA moves to new system for classifying marching bands

Since 2005, the system of classifying high school marching bands in Kentucky has remained the same. Based on school enrollment, 20% of the bands went into each class and schools knew in the spring what their classification would be for the fall.

That system is no more, as the Kentucky Music Educators Association elected to make major changes. The schools will now be classified using a hybrid system, which will take into account both school size and the number of musicians in the band, excluding the drum majors and color guard.

“If you have a larger school, that’s a resource,” KMEA executive director John Stroube said. “You have a larger pool of students to draw from if you recruit and retain successfully. However you’ve recruited and retained, if you have more students, that’s another form of resource is [how many band members] you actually got.”

It’s unclear exactly what impact the changes will have on Kentucky’s highly-competitive marching band circuit. For larger schools, such as Lafayette, Dunbar and Madison Central, the move might not make much of a difference as those schools have large bands and enrollment.

“We don’t know,” Stroube said. “And as far as the bands that will change, it totally depends on how many bands sign up.”

Before 2005, the system was entirely based on the size of the band, which Stroube said created issues as participation lagged for some schools, leading to the smallest classification becoming bloated with too many schools. The system that replaced it made sure that one classification wouldn’t get too big, creating the 20% rule that continues under the new system.

“What happened in the previous thing that was only based on school size,” Stroube said, “you might have a large school that for reasons, whether it be community support, lacking administrative support, weak recruiting or retaining, for some reason that band is smaller than many of the other bands that are in that school size classification, so that school faces a disadvantage on the field that the band director can do nothing about.”

Michael Collins, band director at Woodford County High School, said that he was waiting to see how the new system would work, but that he had high hopes for it.

“I think I have to say a mixture,” Collins said. “It’s hard to say for sure before you actually see it play out, but I think there are some positives, particularly in the reason behind it and certainly there are some potential negatives, but I think it’s going to be hard to please everybody with any system.”

One of Stroube’s biggest fears with the new system is that it would affect how schools prepare for the season, as the bands will no longer know their classification until after the enrollment date for the state championship, Aug. 15. Previously schools knew in the spring where they would be competing in the fall. The state championship will take place at WKU’s Houchens-Smith Stadium in Bowling Green on Oct. 26.

“It’s just different than what we’re used to,” Collins said. “Since we have really no control over it, we just kind of do what we do every day. We work hard and try not to put too much emphasis on that since ultimately it’s something that we don’t really have any control over. It makes it a little bit more difficult to pick contests.”

Collins said that if he was the one in control of the system used for the state championships, his biggest change would be to add more bands to the four in each class that currently compete in the finals.

“I think the trick has been to find a system that really makes that feasible,” Collins said. “Both logistically and financially for KMEA and I don’t know if we’re there yet, but I think that’s where a lot of minds are and I think that’s a positive thing for the activity and for the state of Kentucky.”