High school football coach throws marching band off field at halftime

dworthington@heraldonline.comNovember 17, 2013 

The story immediately went viral. High school football coach walks onto the field at halftime, demanding the marching band leave the field, even shaking the podium while drum majors are conducting. The coach, and even some parents in the stands, shout, “Leave the field!” Then the band, with time still remaining in halftime, files off the field.

But it is not just any school.

It is my school. My football team. My marching band.

Here are the facts.

It’s Nov. 8, another Friday night game under the lights at Annandale High School in northern Virginia.

It is the final game of the season and the time has arrived to honor the school’s seniors. Before the game the seniors on the football team and cheer-leading squads are honored. The marching band’s seniors will be honored at halftime, during the band’s award-winning “Music of the Night” program.

With just over four minutes remaining in halftime, football coach Mike Scott brings his team to the field, demanding the band stop its performance, fearful his team – trailing 35-7 and having won just one game this season – will get a 15-yard delay of game penalty. The band leaves. Annandale loses to South High School, 55-14, and the band resumes its halftime show after the game is over.

The incident went viral when the school’s student newspaper, The A-Blast, published an editorial titled “Band kicked off the field.” The editorial on the paper’s website has been viewed more than 465,000 times and there were, as of Sunday, almost 600 comments.

Washington media have written about the incident, some calling coach Scott the worst football bully. While he plans to apologize to the band, some demand harsh penalties.

Here are a few other facts.

Annandale High School has been a school of high expectations. The Atoms nickname and the name of the student newspaper reflect the Cold War times when the school opened. The Atoms nickname, some say, is linked to President Dwight Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” speech at the United Nations where he urged that “every avenue of peace” be explored as the world dealt with a rising nuclear arms race.

Its football team has had just five coaches in its 60-year history. The Atoms have won six state championships and were once ranked the top football team in the nation.

Its band has enjoyed similar successes. This year it won its class at the U.S. Bands Mid-Atlantic State Championships. Its alumni have gone on to play in symphonies and military bands across the world.

Alumni of its students newspaper have earned top honors in journalism, including a Pulitzer prize.

Annandale is where I played in the band and got my first by-lined stories in the A-Blast. Fresh out of college, I returned to northern Virginia to cover the Atoms and other schools as a fledgling sports writer.

The behavior on senior night astounded marching band directors and football coaches alike.

Martin Dickey, director of Fort Mill’s state championship Nation Ford marching band, knew of the incident before I called. His reaction?

Two words. “Really?” and then “Wow!”

He said it wouldn’t happen at Nation Ford or any other York County high school because of the respect everyone has for each other.

“I felt bad for all the kids, the football kids, the band kids,” Dickey said.

Retired football coach and athletic director Jimmy “Moose” Wallace said he never saw anything like that during his 39-year high school football career, which included 24 years at Rock Hill’s Northwestern High School.

“It’s a lack of organization,” he said. “You should know what takes place on Friday night long before the game. When we met with the officials we would always request a longer halftime.”

According to the A-Blast editorial that is what happened before the fateful game.

Dickey’s and Wallace’s focus was on how events like this affect students.

Dickey watched the Annandale band students being interviewed by a Washington television station. He was impressed by how they handled themselves. Dickey said he teaches his kids about how to be interviewed. He knows the band’s success on the field or playing in places such as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade means the media will come calling. He doesn’t tell his students what to say, but he wants them to perform as well in front of the camera as they do on the field.

Wallace stressed the life-long lesson students learn in extracurricular activities. “It’s vital that kids be involved,” he said. “Where do the students go at 3:40 when school is over? Hopefully not home to an empty house.”

The football-marching band tussle also renewed the age-old argument that band is, well, just band, and FOOTBALL is FOOTBALL!

“Football is a vehicle to teach life lessons and band is vehicle to teach life lessons,” Dickey said. And while acknowledging situations are different, the skills learned by an athlete and musician are much the same. When a quarterback drops back to pass, he runs down his list options and quickly makes a decision. A marching musician, not only has to master the technique of marching and playing at the same time, but also is constantly evaluating his performance as part of a whole, Dickey said. “I am playing too loud, too soft, am I playing in tune,” are things a marching musician must adjust.

Annandale school officials as well as Fairfax County school officials have said they have investigated the incident. Annandale principal Vincent J. Randazzo wrote, “We learn from our mistakes and we will move past this episode with a better understanding of the importance that mutual respect plays in our interactions with each other – students and staff members.”

Nonetheless, as one band member told a TV reporter, “We felt frustrated because this was our last night to perform, so it was memorable, but I guess they kinda ruined it."

Don Worthington •  803-329-4066 • dworthington@heraldonline.com

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