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Denham Springs Overcomes Adversity

‘Tis the season! As we embrace the season of giving, and care for those closest to us in our community, Band Shoppe asks that you remember the marching band family across the nation too.

Band Shoppe is very proud to have been a small part of these student’s lives in 2016. But this isn’t about us. It’s about supporting our community — our music community, our marching community, our education community. There are many music programs out there that need a little support from the music community and their local community to thrive.

Denham Springs, LA

In August of 2016, Southeastern Louisiana was hit with a historic amount of rain not caused by a hurricane. From August 12-14, some areas received up to 25 inches which resulted in catastrophic flooding of the nearby rivers. Flood waters ravaged the area damaging and/or destroying more than 146,000 homes. In addition, thirteen people lost their lives. The National Weather Service was quoted in saying that this type of rainfall happens in the state of Louisiana every 1,000 years. Governor John Bel Edwards called the disaster, “unprecedented” and it is known as the worst natural disaster since Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

One of the areas hardest hit by this historic flooding was the town Denham Springs, LA, located about 25 miles east of Baton Rouge. It was the 6th day of school for Denham Springs High School when the rain began. Music Director Dr. Andrew Hunter had to cancel outdoor marching band rehearsal for his group that day and move things inside when the rain didn’t stop.

As Dr. Hunter recalls, “The next morning I got a call that school had been canceled due to the heavy rains. Later that night, (the faculty) received an email from the principal saying that we might be doing some sandbagging in the morning.”

After receiving this email, Dr. Hunter asked his assistant director to go to the school and move any equipment from, “below the waist to over your head.” They were able to do that with a lot of the instruments and save some of the sheet music but ,unfortunately, the majority of the equipment couldn’t be moved – so all of those items had to stay. The next day, the Amite River, west of town, flooded — and water rushed into the city reaching as high as 6 feet in some places. Ninety percent of the structures in Denham Springs flooded and of the 185 students in the music program at DSHS, about 135 lost their homes. Life had completely changed for everyone.

Over a week after the water subsided, Dr. Hunter and his staff were able to get back into their band room to see the aftermath. Faced with a lot of uncertainty about the school semester, Dr. Hunter and his team wanted to try and do all they could to resurrect the music program and the marching season from this disaster. But that would prove to be challenging as students had moved to other areas for school after the flood, or weren’t in school aiding with clean up at home. To do this, they were going to need a little help.

“It’s always someone’s senior year, and you really hate to punt on someone’s senior year,” said Hunter. “But I really felt strongly to salvage a good marching season for the students, many who had just lost their home. Maybe this could be a distraction from the reality of the situation.”

Dr. Hunter and his staff implemented Band Camp 2.0. And the community rallied together. School resumed and classes would begin at Noon and would go until 5PM. The staff and students dug deep, worked hard, and practiced from 6PM-8PM, giving kids an opportunity to think about something else for a couple of hours. Many former students in the area came back to the high school and gave their time and talents to help prepare the band for the upcoming season. And so with a lot of help from the community, and a little bit of help from Band Shoppe, Denham Springs was able to rebound and compete in the 2016 season.

The band went on to receive straight superior ratings at all of the contests they performed in during the 2016 season. The group performed at the McNeese State University “Showdown at Sundown” High School Marching Band Festival on October 22, 2016. After missing so much time due to the flood, and having gone through so much, out the 26 bands that performed at the competition, The Jacket Pride Marching Band finished in 3rd place overall.

Dr. Andrew Hunter, Band Director of Denham Springs (Right) alongside Carly, Assistant Band Director (Center Right)
with Band Shoppe sales staff at The Midwest Clinic in Chicago, IL — December 2016.

As Dr. Hunter would tell his students after the flood:

“Who controls how we respond to adversity? WE DO. We respond the way you’ve been taught: head-on, full throttle, and determined for success in spite of what may seem like overwhelming odds.”

But the rebuilding effort continues today. The once flooded band room will finally be reopened to the students beginning January 5, 2017. The band recently held a successful fundraiser to recover much of its equipment, but they still need a lot of help to replace everything that couldn’t be saved.

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