York County bands marched their way to the top Saturday at the state 4-A band competition.
Local schools earned the top four awards, with Clover High School winning the state championship.
"We've had a good year and we thought we had a chance to do well, but to actually win -- no one's ever prepared for that," Clover band director Eric Wells said.
Clover came in first, York Comprehensive High School second, Fort Mill High School third and Northwestern High School fourth.
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"The York County bands have always had a huge reputation for being the top in the state," Clover Principal Ron Wright said. "But it is neat to be one, two, three and four."
Local schools also won awards in other divisions, with Nation Ford High School placing second in the 2-A competition and Lewisville High School taking second in the 1-A competition.
Martin Dickey, president of the S.C. Band Directors Association and director of bands at Nation Ford, said students in area bands learn to be successful by participating in concert programs, region band, all-state and the marching band competitions. He said there are other places with several successful programs, but none quite as large as York County.
"I think it speaks very highly of the music educators in York County and the surrounding area," Dickey said.
"When we had the York County exhibition back in September, people had a chance to see some of the best bands in the state in one night."
Clover's win was the school's first state championship in 25 years.
"I couldn't be more tickled pink," said Wright, who was the band director when the school last won. "I'm very proud of them. They work so hard."
Wells said he thinks the program music helped carry the band to first place Saturday.
"We know that with success comes raised expectations," he said. "So hopefully, we can find a show that will be successful next year."
Even for bands that didn't win, coming in second place was no small feat.
"The thing for us was it was supposed to be a rebuilding year," said Lewisville band director Daniel Nuckolls, who led the school to the upper state 1-A championship. "We were honored to be in the top two."
York band director Fred Stewart also was pleased to see his group in the top two.
"That was our best performance of the season and they knew they had performed the show very well," he said, adding that students were thrilled to be at the competition.
"Last year, we were third, so moving up a spot was wonderful, and they were just ecstatic about that."
Dickey said Nation Ford's finish was a big success for a first-year band. Because Nation Ford just opened this school year, the group does not have any seniors.
"The kids were just hoping they could do well, and they had their best performance on Saturday," he said. "They were very pleased with the results."
A bittersweet ending
Northwestern's fourth-place finish was bittersweet for band director Larry Wells, who watched his son, Eric Wells, take home the first-place trophy.
"Eric grew up in band with me. This is my 39th year teaching. From the time he could walk and say a few words, he's been on a band bus or he's been involved with band with me for all those years," he said. "So to see him come through the ranks and be in the same profession I'm in and be so successful in what he's done and what he's learned -- I'm so proud of him."
As for his own band, Larry Wells said he thought the students performed very well, even if they were slightly disappointed not to place higher.
"There's always that initial reaction that you would like to be in a higher position, but still, after you take a careful look at your priorities and what the band is all about and what you're trying to achieve, everything sort of comes into light," he said. "From that standpoint, I'm extremely excited about the work the kids did this year and what they accomplished."