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Dan Balash

IHSA to survey member schools over state marching band and show choir

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Breaking news from our sponsors at Voxitatis:


The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) will survey its approximately 800 member schools in November to determine how many have a marching band program and might participate in a state championship series for the activity, the IHSA’s assistant executive director, Matt Troha, told Voxitatis in an email on July 30.


The survey will also ask about competitive show choir, and the IHSA executive board will discuss the possibility of developing a state championship series if at least 10 percent of the association’s member schools would participate, Mr. Troha said. That’s about 70 or 80 schools.


If the results of the IHSA’s survey meet their criteria, an actual state championship would still be one or two years away, Mr. Troha said.



According to IHSA’s website, there are 794 member schools, so 80 schools would have to approve either state series or both. In the ILmarching database, there are 231 schools, 206 of which competed at least one time in the 2011-2012 school year. We recognize the fact that some of these schools would have no interest in a state marching band system, but I think enough would be interested in this for it to pass.


Assuming that the high schools ratify a marching band state series, how does Illinois go about setting this up?  What do we need?


  • The ability to come up with a scoring system that all can agree upon.  Does each class advance on to the next round of a state system with different totals to advance?
  • A schedule that will not interfere with other events (collegiate testing, Bands of America events, and the like)
  • Figuring out how to classify schools/how many classes will there be? Does the IHSA multiplier come into effect?
  • How do you accommodate different types of marching, such as show-style?
  • Adequate locations for whatever leadup to state championships there may be.



Here’s how Indiana does it, and my favorite example:

  • 4 classes, based on school size (Class A: 1812+, Class B 961-1811, Class C 551-960, Class D: 0-550.)
  • Districts start out at 7 sites around the state (with all 4 classes), then regionals (2 classes at each (north/south), 4 sites) 2 weeks later, then semi-states (20 bands per class, 4 sites, 1 class a site, all around Indianapolis), and state finals (40 bands, 4 classes, each class names a state champion).
  • Bands must achieve a set score to advance from regionals to districts (52.00 in Class D, 54 in Class C, 60 in B and A.)  At regionals, the top 10 scoring bands in each class advance on to semi-state.  Semi-state consists of 20 bands in each class, and the top 10 (plus ties) advance on to state finals.



Here’s what I would like to see:

  • Bands scored on the Bands of America scoring system or something very similar.
  • A 4 class system utilized that’s fairly balanced out assuming every competing band in our database would wish to participate in this, which is highly unlikely.  Here’s my setup: Class D: 0-500, Class C: 501-1,000, Class B: 1,001-~1900, Class A: 1901+
  • No utilization of IHSA multiplier of 1.65 for private schools.  Or, if this is used, permit it to be removed if a private school does not advance from the first step in a state system within the last 3 years.
  • A 3 or 4 week system that permits bands to compete at other local festivals and Bands of America events as well.  Districts: Week 3 of September, Regionals: Week 1 of October, Semistate: Week 2, week off for BOA events/heighten the suspense for State finals at one of the major universities (U of I, NIU, ISU.)  Semi-state may not be possible due to the sheer size of Illinois.  I don’t want O’Fallon/Warren Township to have to meet up in a central location more than once a season due to travel.
  • Advancement from Districts onward similar to Indiana.
  • Availability of  good sized stadiums around the state.  Prefer good seating for ~20 bands at each district, ~30 at each regional, 20 at each semi-state, 40 at state finals.
  • Maybe rotate state finals between NIU/ISU/EIU/U of I depending on football schedules?


We want your input on this.  Illinois Marching Online and Voxitatis have paired up to do a survey of the fans, students, parents, judges and educators in Illinois.  We ask you to fill out this simple survey here:  https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/vox_ilm_interest_survey  We thank you for your participation.  Also, please post your thoughts below!


Many thanks to Paul Katula for alerting us to this information.



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How many bands in IL even compete more than 3 or 4 times? I'm having a hard time seeing there being a ton of interest, especially since I don't have a lot of faith in the IHSA doing this "right".


According to some info I was sent:

- 34 bands did one event

- 24 bands did 2 events

- 41 bands did 3 events

- 49 bands did 4 events

- 35 bands did 5 events

- 19 bands did 6 events

- 7 bands did 7 or 8 events

This count includes BOA-STL and GSL but does not include other BOA events.


Simply put:

58 bands did 1-2 events

90 bands did 3-4 events

61 bands did 5-8 events

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Via our partners at Voxitatis (bolding is mine.)




IMEA ‘exploring options’ for contest-like events


The board of directors of the Illinois Music Educators Association is “exploring options” that would fit its “education philosophy and also meet members’ needs” when it comes to providing any input to a state championship series in marching band or show choir, Darcy A. Nendza, IMEA’s executive director, told Voxitatis Tuesday.

The organization’s board has gotten wind of movement on the part of the Illinois High School Association to possibly organize a state series in these events, provided at least 10 percent of IHSA’s member schools would participate. The IHSA will survey its member schools—almost every public and private high school in the state—this November regarding their interest in a state series for marching band or show choir.


For example, the selection of orchestras and bands to perform at one of the clinics at the All-State conference in Peoria every January is based on audition, but the selection is not competitive. No one ever tries to determine if one group “is better than” any other group, so scoring rubrics aren’t available.


And yet, directors who have taken our online survey, a partnership between Illinois Marching Online and Voxitatis, generally feel IMEA would bring understanding of fine arts education to any state championship and would therefore be a more appropriate choice to run the state championship than IHSA.


“I do not feel IHSA has the ability to run this properly,” one director wrote. “I believe they’re only trying to be involved as another way to make more money. Solo and Ensemble and Organizational Contest are poorly developed and conceived (as a whole, not reflective of the host schools AT ALL—the hosts do the best they can to provide a great experience for the kids). If marching band and show choir contests are run like Solo Ensemble and Organizational contest, then a serious injustice will be done to the medium. It will take away ALL control that a director has to make an educated decision to provide an excellent experience for students.”


This comment reflects the dichotomy between what the IMEA calls “members’ interests” (many of whom would like to participate in a state championship series for one reason or another) and the “education philosophy” of the organization. That philosophy seems to involve, mainly, providing an enriching musical experience for students. Directors mostly agree their freedom to do that as they see fit would be reduced if IHSA had the authority to direct groups to certain contests on certain days.


“If IHSA has the ability to block certain weekends for marching competitions, this will interfere with the availability for high schools to host their own competitions on those weekends. This will then lead to several schools hosting events on a limited amount of weekends, and this will result in schools having less of a chance to raise needed band fund goals,” another director told us through the survey.


“You already have a large percentage of Illinois that refuses to participate in the Music Organizational series because of the lack of knowledge by IHSA and the lack of quality in the event,” another wrote. “Since IHSA has no musicians on staff overseeing current music offerings, judges for the Organization contest and facilities are simply up to the discretion of whoever volunteers to host the event.


“I don’t believe IHSA has any intention of changing that. So, a high school concert band playing grade 6 literature is being evaluated by a person who taught grade school band for 30 years in a farming community. Orchestras are being evaluated by a full panel that lacks any orchestral experience. The amount of work that would be necessary to run a great state championship series is far more than I believe IHSA thinks it is, and the money necessary and the desire to hire quality panels won’t be there.”


We have read a few pro-IHSA responses. At Illinois high schools, it’s mostly athletic directors who work with the IHSA, not music directors. Occasionally principals are the school’s official representative to the IHSA, but the IHSA deals mostly with athletic directors.


Still, the association has demonstrated expertise in establishing state championship series in athletics, including bass fishing. The competition in these events is generally considered a positive thing in that the trophies are both extrinsic and intrinsic rewards for students, pushing them to higher levels of achievement.


“The fact that Illinois is a large state and we have no organized marching band circuit is keeping us from attaining levels by Indiana and Texas bands,” one director, who voted in favor of an IHSA-sanctioned championship, wrote on the survey.


But the overwhelming number of responses from directors have been pro-music, anti-IHSA.


“I do not think the IHSA has enough background and education in HS music programs that the organization would be able to provide a good contest for competitive marching band,” wrote Vic Scimeca, band director at Wheaton Warrenville South High School. “To create a championship, I would expect the IHSA to create a board of directors for the contest made up of band directors and let them get this together.”


Fortunately, the state of Illinois already has a group “made up of band directors” and a bunch of other music educators. It’s called the IMEA, but they can’t do anything at this point except wait for IHSA to finish its survey and explore their options.


Maintaining the delicate balance between competition, which has the potential to raise the bar on the level of performance if enough schools are able to participate, and music education philosophy, which is sometimes and in some schools a distant third when it comes to marching band achievement, is not easy.


But we’ve been told IMEA’s board of directors is starting to think about trying to maintain just that balance.

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As a host of multiple IHSA contests -  I have attended the Music Manager meetings the last 4 years at the IHSA office.  Let me be clear, the intent is that if IHSA gets enough member schools interested in a competitive circuit, it is their goal to appoint a committee made up entirely of competitive marching band directors to form the rules for the marching circuit.  It will not be run by the Music Advisory Committee to my understanding - which is made up of administrators, vocal teachers, elementary teachers, and band teachers. 


For someone to say they are just in it to make money may be right, maybe not.  All I know is that IMEA has had years to form a circuit and they haven't (to be fair - same with IHSA), and now all of a sudden after IHSA expresses interest, IMEA has had a revelation of their own and now they want to do it.  Seems pretty suspect to me.  Also - we do not charge admissions at S/E or Org. contests - so music is dependent on some contests making money through entry fees vs. what they pay in piano and juge fees, but the rest coming through athletic event income from regionals, sectionals, and state tournaments.  If we could become financially independent with a marching band regional/sectional/state format that assists in paying for S/E and Org. contests, that would make the music aspects of IHSA look better as well.


I say - let's see where the IHSA gets us.  They are THE only recognized official HS organization by Illinois high schools, so a state championship run through IHSA gives more credit for our case to administrators than something run by IMEA.  As we are facing budget shortfalls, anything not an IHSA event can possibly start to be considered voluntary and some schools are having to pay for mileage for any trip they go to that isn't an IHSA competitive event. 


IMEA discussed competitive marching band years ago, and some of the "legends of IMEA" were the the staunch opponents to it.  It's time Illinois had a state system.  The days of individual shows, individual rules, and individual classifications need to end. 


I encourage all directors to vote "YES" to IHSA when that survey comes out.  It doesn't bind you to having to participate in the system....but it will allow you to see what they can come up with.  Don't complain without seeing what can be done first.  If their results aren't what we want, then we can look to IMEA as a second option.  Until then, IHSA did step to the plate first, and I think that warrants credibility and a genuine interest to do this the right way.


Salem will be voting yes.

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Guest ARusek

I have forwarded the article to both of my administrators and asked that they vote "no" in November. It has been my past experiences that the Organizational and Solo contests run through IHSA have not been musically beneficial to my students, nor have they resulted in any sort of educationally beneficial knowledge to myself to better my teaching. IMEA has had a better track record of creating beneficial programs for students and teachers and so I would rather give their program a chance, and decide if I wish to be a part of their series at a later time.


With that said, I completely understand that IHSA has set the bar intentionally low at only requiring 10% of schools to agree (meaning 90% could say no and they would still add, though I could be mistaken). However, I think that it would send a powerful message to the IHSA regarding its involvement in music events if the majority of high schools in the state voted against this measure.

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If - AND ONLY IF - the IHSA allows directors of competitive marching bands to make the decisions regarding the formation and running of the proposed state series, I can see the benefits in terms of consistent classifications, judging criteria, etc.  IHSA is the only state-wide organization with the credentials and clout to make a state series work.  If IMEA is in charge, I don't see it being sustainable.  IHSA has the funds, the backing from schools, administrators, etc. necessary.  If IHSA simply puts marching band into the system that is already set up for organizational and solo/ensemble, I will not support it.  If IHSA would create a board or committee made up of active competitive marching band directors that would have direct control of all aspects, I would be willing to give it a try.  I believe IMEA can and should  be involved with the discussion in whatever ways it feels necessary.



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Any updates in this?  Curious when/if the results of the IMEA survey will be made public.


There hasn't been any official word from IHSA on this-little surprised about that. 


We have 2 surveys to share-The Illinois Marching Online survey about the site, and the ILMarching/Voxitatis survey (more on that in a bit.)


First things first, in the 2012 ILMarching Survey (we'll get a rundown of what everyone thought out soon) we asked the following question:


Do you think your school would participate in a state championship series run by the IHSA?

We had 36 designers/judges/instructors respond out of a total of 177 total survey takers. 


Our informal survey showed the following:

  • 28 voted "Yes."
  • 7 voted "No."
  • 1 "I don't know what you're talking about."



Our friends over at Voxitatis have written a 6 part (so far) series on IHSA and marching band:

    [*]We expect an IL Marching Band Championship

    [*]Directors Reasons for wanting a State Championship

    [*]Why Some Directors DON'T Want a State Championship

    [*]Important Elements in a Marching Band

    [*]Students, Parents and Others Respond to a State Championship

    [*]The Constitution and a State Championship Series

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I think KY has a good way of balancing the schedule to all bands to participate in other events, but it is ran by KMEA.


There are 5 classes (A - 5A) based off of school size, and divided into East and West. During the season, bands must attend a KMEA sanctioned event (which most school festivals are) and obtain a superior rating (which when I taught in KY was 80, not sure if that has changed much) in order to qualify for regionals (Quarterfinals).


There are 10 sites for regionals, both West and East for each of the 5 classes, which is held the next to last weekend of October.


The top 8 scoring bands from each regional moves on to Semifinals. Semifinals are held around a college campus (UK, Louisville, WKU, EKU commonly) the last weekend of October. Each class has a site around the town of that college. The top 4 bands move on to finals that night at that college stadium. So, state competition only takes 2 weekends.

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