Balancing Band

High school today is more challenging than ever. students are expected to excel academically in every subject and to participate in extracurricular activities just to be considered for college admission. Fitting everything in can be a very complex balancing act. Find out how some students manage their time while juggling band, sports, schoolwork and much more.

Imagine that you’re the featured soloist in your marching band’s field show. Academically, you’re taking advanced placement (AP) calculus BC, AP U.S. history, intensified physics, English and Spanish 4. You’re also in an improv troupe, an a capella group, track and field, and student government. Outside of school you babysit, volunteer at your local temple, teach little kids to play guitar and play in a rock band with your friends. And to top it all off, you’re on the varsity football team.

Welcome to the life of Sam Abrahams, a 17-year-old junior from Arlington, Va. Though he sounds more like Superman, he’s your everyday high school student, with a little extra drive.

“I like trying to do a lot of stuff; there’s a lot of things I can’t do still!” Abrahams says. “When I set goals for myself, I like to think that I accomplish them if it’s something that I really want to do.”

So, instead of going into the locker room at halftime, Abrahams—in his full football uniform and pads— marches and plays a trumpet solo in the Yorktown High School Marching Patriot’s field show.

“The football team walks off the field; I put my helmet on the sideline and walk over to the band, and I can hear people in the crowd cheering my name,” Abrahams says. “The crowd really appreciates it, and it gives them a sense that the football team and the marching band can get along.”

Yorktown’s band director, Brian Coffill, agrees. “It’s a great photo opportunity, and people really love to see that,” Coffill says. “We’re really happy that he’s able to do it, and so are Sam and his parents.”

Staying Focused

Like Abrahams, many teenagers are juggling multiple extracurricular activities and community involvement on top of an already loaded academic schedule. For example, Abrahams isn’t the only student able to do both band and football. Across the country in San Diego, Marty Gelenter runs from football practice to band practice.

“When I was in middle school, I was able to do both without confl icts, and I really enjoyed both,” Gelenter says. “When I went to high school, I didn’t want to make a decision. I knew it would be hard but that it would pay off to be able to do both.”

Gelenter plays baritone sax in the Point Loma High School Vanguard and is a center on the football team. At football games the band marches a hole for his spot, but he attends all of the other performances and competitions.

“I can make most of the morning rehearsals, but I miss a lot of the afternoon ones,” Gelenter says. “So I always had to practice a lot more than everyone else to catch up and be very focused when I was there.”

When not playing football or his sax, the 15-year-old sophomore studies for his four AP and honors classes. In the spring he is also in the concert band, wrestling, and track and field.

“I have to stay very focused with everything,” Gelenter says. “You have to keep up with it all because once you get behind, it makes it really hard to catch up with things, especially when you have so much going on.”

Skillful Scheduling

With college ambitions and personal passions driving students to participate in multiple activities, their teachers, band directors and coaches have needed to adapt and become more cooperative.

“I really try to make it work for them,” says Melissa Simmons, band director at Point Loma. “I’d rather have the kid be able to do band and another sport because when it comes to making them choose, I’d rather have more students in the program who want to be there.”

Simmons considers herself lucky because the coaches have been extremely cooperative. “It’s been a really good relationship, and I’m very fortunate,” Simmons says.

“The coaches are very good at communicating. They really want to make it work for the students too, so that they can be involved and not have to choose between music and a sport.”

In addition, Simmons’ students have few academic conflicts with band due to some skillful scheduling by the counselors. Similarly, Yorktown High School has a complicated block scheduling system that minimizes academic conflicts and allows students to participate in band by giving up part of their lunch period. Band director, Coffill, also allows some leeway for students coming to band straight from an athletic practice.

“A lot of the schedule stuff isn’t ideal, but we’re trying to find creative ways to make it work out,” Coffill says. “The biggest conflict we have is that some sports practices run right up to our rehearsal, but I give them a 20-minute grace period and let them jump in after warm-ups are over.”

Abrahams worried that his coach wouldn’t allow him to miss the halftime meeting in order to play in the field show, but it turned out that he just had to ask.

“I thought [my coach] was going to yell at me and tell me to make football a commitment,” Abrahams says. “But I was very surprised he told me to go ahead and do it.”

Strong Support System

Kristen Bumgardner, a cymbal player from L.D. Bell (Texas) High School says that teachers are aware of the championship-level band program and do what they can to help. Last year, L.D. Bell won Bands of America’s Grand National Championships.

“Our teachers are all very familiar with band, so the students just need to keep up to date with it,” Bumgardner says. “The teachers have tutorials before and after school if you need extra help, and they are very fair about letting you get your stuff done.”

Simmons says that no matter what the school staff does to help, the bulk of the responsibility falls on the students.

“If the student wants to be involved in a lot of things, they need to make the personal commitment to make it work; it can be done, but they have to want it bad enough,” Simmons says. “They’re starting young adulthood. If there’s a conflict that they signed up for, it’s not my or their parents’ responsibility to take care of it. They really need to take responsibility themselves.”

Having a strong support system of family, friends and even fans can make dealing with a complicated schedule a little easier.

“My family is real supportive with everything I do,” Gelenter says. “It makes it a lot easier when you know your parents are there for you and that they’re watching out for you. It makes me happy to look up into the stands and see them there for both football and band.”

Abrahams receives support and praise from his family, even those who live far away. “My family is really supportive of it,” he says. “When my dad told his relatives, they all sent me emails and stuff, just gushing.”

Socially, it’s been a little strange for both Gelenter and Abrahams to reconcile the “football jock” and the “band nerd” images.

“The football guys don’t have as much appreciation and respect for the band guys as the band people do for the football team, but you get used to it,” Abrahams says. “The other members of the band think it’s really cool. The football people don’t think about it as much, but the marching band people are more supportive and it feels really nice.”

Gelenter says his fellow teammates are more impressed by his time management skills. “The other football players— you can tell they think it’s different— but they do wonder how I fit in both of them and what would make me want to do both of them,” Gelenter says.

“Most of the band people think it’s pretty cool, and they all know me as the football player who’s in band. When we have football games, they always cheer for me, and it’s fun having them there as my biggest cheering section.”

Abrahams agrees that the attention and fan support is a great confidence booster.

“There’s one part in the first song that I’m playing a solo, and the other trumpet player is playing underneath it, and I can hear people saying ‘Yeah, Sam!,’” Abrahams says.

For Bumgardner, having friends in band is an important element of time management because it accomplishes two things at once.

“I like band and art because they are fun for me,” Bumgardner says. “Band is just something I sort of grew into. It’s as much of a social thing as it is a fun and competitive thing.”

Drive From Within

No matter what outside pressure, multiple activities and other support that students deal with, the drive to balance their time has to come from within.

“You pretty much have to learn what you yourself can do,” Bumgardner says. “Some people can work continuously for three hours, but I need to split up my time a little more. It just depends on your personality. It depends on the person.”

In addition to band, Bumgardner is an accomplished art student, has taken many AP classes, is in National Honor Society, does charity work and takes kickboxing classes.

“Just choose what’s good for you and do what’s fun; have a good time,” Bumgardner says.

Abrahams agrees that having fun is what makes time management possible. “I think it’s a lot easier to get everything done if you can have fun with all the activities that you do, then you don’t need to waste as much time playing video and computer games,” Abrahams says. “If you’re already having fun in your activities, it gives you the mindset that you already had your fun, so now it’s time to do homework. I, of course, still play video games and do other things but much less than I used to.”

Focus is the most important thing for Gelenter. Because he misses some practices and football halftime shows, which most bands consider like the dress rehearsals for competitions, he focuses especially hard when he can be there.

“I pretty much have to focus a whole lot more when I’m there because the rehearsals are when they go over it over and over again for memorization,” Gelenter says. “When I’m there, I need to focus on where I am and who’s around me. I need to focus on hitting it every time at practice since I don’t have those extra run-throughs.”

Though balancing multiple commitments is a lot of hard work, these students believe that going the extra mile in high school is worth the effort.

“The hardest part is just keeping up with everything and keeping the drive to keep going,” Gelenter says. “I just have to keep up my energy and stay positive about everything. I don’t have any idea of what I want to be. I just want to get into the best college that I can.”

Abrahams has fully embraced his atypical experience.

“This year has been kind of unreal,” Abrahams says. “Some parts have gone by really slow and others very fast, but it’s been one of the best years that I’ve ever had, and it’s exciting to see myself in the spotlight during the halftime show. It’s been a lot of fun, and marching band’s been something really special to me. I gotta make the most of it while it lasts.”

About the Author

Elizabeth Geli is an editorial intern at Halftime Magazine. She is currently a senior majoring in print journalism at the University of Southern California. She began playing flute 11 years ago in her hometown of Placentia, Calif. Now she plays in the USC Trojan Marching Band and has supported the teams at back-to-back-to back Rose Bowls, the NCAA basketball tournament and as many other games as possible. She also serves as the band librarian.

About author

Elizabeth Geli

Elizabeth Geli is the assistant editor of Halftime Magazine and a journalist/communications professional in Southern California. Her 11 years at the University of Southern California (USC) Trojan Marching Band included time as a flute player, graduate teaching assistant, and student advocate. She holds a bachelor's degree in Print Journalism and master's degree in Specialized Journalism (The Arts) from USC.

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