At Dansville High School, the band is back together. And the students have a special set arranged for their “triumphant return.”

DANSVILLE, Mich.—Nobody wants to go home early today. On a gleaming Friday afternoon in mid-Michigan, one that almost fools you into thinking summer’s on the way instead of on the way out, the Dansville High School Marching Band lines up across six rows of bleachers for pictures, decked out in their traditionally tasseled headpieces and button-up white tops with black pants.

It’s the first time they’ve stepped foot into these uniforms in nearly two years, since the onset of COVID-19. For some, today’s their first time ever wearing the uniforms.

The energy in the fall air is frenetic, hours before a Friday night football kickoff on Sept. 17, and the musicians are having trouble staying still for the camera.

“A lot of the songs, I have solos in them, so I’m excited to shine, play, and try to wow the crowd,” sophomore Bailey Lytle, the bass trombonist, said. Tonight is Lytle’s big debut, since he had to miss the first home game of the season.

Senior Hugh J. Service barks out orders from the bottom of stairs like a drill sergeant. Distinguished by his bold yellow insignia and boasting the traditional drum major mace, Service is a senior captain of the band. He knows how much this day means. 

“We’ve all known each other since the first grade,” Service said. “And the band especially, we are one tight-knit group.”

Dansville is a small town, a stop sign instead of stoplight sort of place where you can get a homemade cherry pie for $6 at the local grocery store. Everyone knows everyone, and no one’s a stranger.

Band director Kim McNabb calls out siblings. “Your parents will want pictures,” she reminds them.

The band’s theme this year is “Triumphant Return,” an intentional message lost on nobody. The set includes hits from well before the pandemic, including the fittingly named classic tunes “Don’t Stop Me Now,” and “I’m Still Standing.”

“It’s been a long time, but the band is back,” Service said. “We’re still standing. And you can’t stop us now.”

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Not only is the Aggie band back, but it truly is better than ever. 

Senior drum major Sydney Hagelberger says motivation was once an issue with underclassmen, but no longer. Quite the opposite, everyone seems ready to make their mark, enthusiastic to have face-to-face interaction and be part of a team.

“Now that it’s been so long since we’ve been able to do it, everybody’s more into it,” Hagelberger said.

When COVID-19 struck, turning school into a chatroom, people lost a year of their high school lives. So did the band. That year, from March 2020 to Feburary 2021, was rough.

Junior Marisa Nottingham said virtual practices weren’t the same.

Band had first-thing-in-the-morning classes, and at the scheduled time, Nottingham’s family was asleep, so she couldn’t practice.

“I didn’t play once unless it was a test,” she said.

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Last year, the band did have one show, but instrument masks and bell covers muffled their sound. Now, they’re at full volume once again.

Masks can be a controversial issue in schools, and the Dansville community has had some headbutts over the issue. Indoors at school, everyone still masks, per an Ingham County order that follows official health guidance. Outdoors, where scientists say the virus is less likely to spread, they’re free to take masks off. 

 Most students are just happy to be back in person, with their friends.

Back on the football field, sophomore kicker Gabriel Schmitt warms up hours before gametime. His friends and teammates are hyping him up. He’s just been called up to varsity, and it’s his first game kicking. He’s ready to make his mark.

His mind isn’t on the pandemic, classes, or anything else. There’s a home game tonight, so all he’s focused on is cooling his nerves before he kicks off his high school career. To him, it feels like a typical Friday afternoon, perfect weather for Michigan high school football.

“It’s one step closer to being back to normal, and it’s a good feeling,” Schmitt said.

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