RIPLEY – Many area schools and sports teams were affected by COVID-19 at the beginning of last school year. Workouts were cancelled, entire games were postponed, and a specter of worry lingered over the hope for the completion of a successful season for many teams.

For the Ripley Tiger Band however, the 2020 season was over before it truly began, as the MHSAA Executive Committee approved a proposal in July of last year to cancel both regional and state marching band evaluations in the fall. This year, however, competitions are back, and the Ripley Tiger Band began preparations for those competitions this past week with their annual marching band camp.

“We do what we do for the competitions,” Ripley Band Director Bernard Hatch said on Monday. “Yes we have the Friday night football games that we do, but our main focus is our competitions. Last year not being able to do those things, the band kept their morale up pretty good, but that’s what their main focus is, so being able to go back to competitions this year is gonna be a big morale boost for these kids.”

The band, led by Hatch and assistant directors Tim Jackson and Kayla Herron, began preparations for their 2021 show titled “The Fairest of them All” last week, with students and directors alike ready to get back to work.

“I’m really excited for it,” said Drum Major Hannah Horton. “I’ve really been missing it, it’s good to be back to normal.”

This year’s show was described by directors as a modern, darker take on the classic story “Snow White.” Despite a new show with fresh music and drill, the effects of last season can still be felt during band camp this year, as a steep learning curve was noted.

“Because we didn’t have a competitive season last year, and because we weren’t able to march and perform the way we normally had and rehearse, our freshmen and our sophomores have never been to a marching band competition,” Jackson noted. “So essentially, a little over half the band has never been to a marching band competition.”

“We marched, but it wasn’t in that competitive spirit.”

Base marching fundamentals were a primary focus during the band’s outdoor training sessions on Monday. The effects of last season were not all negative, according to Horton, who noted that more time was devoted to sharpening musical skills last year. However, morale within the confines of the Willard Taylor Band Hall at Ripley is currently high, as the students begin work on “The Fairest of them All.”

“We really think the audience is gonna enjoy the show,” Hatch said. “The kids really enjoy the show, and we’re anxious to get out there and get everything on the field.”

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