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FORT WAYNE, Ind. — High school sports in Indiana are on the path to return this fall, but another high school activity for the fall has already been canceled.

The Indiana State School Music Association (ISSMA) announced Friday that the 2020 competitive marching band season has ended before it even started, canceling competitions, meaning tens of thousands of high school students in Indiana will not be working on a goal to reach the state finals at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Doug Hassell, the band director at Carroll High School in Fort Wayne, got a text about the news last week.

“When I saw that, my heart just kind of sank,” Hassell said. “And then it was just kind of processing. We were entering into all of this with a sense of hope, but also, within that hope, was a sense of reality, knowing that this could happen, and it did.”

Hassell said he had to email a letter to his students on Thursday night, informing them of the news. He then had a chance to talk in person with section leaders — select students, usually upperclassmen, who are in charge of their group based on the instrument.

“There was a sense of sadness, and also a sense of understanding,” he said. “But also a sense of hope, because the competition side of marching band is part of what we do, but it’s not the whole thing. The overwhelming response from the kids was ‘we just want to be together, make music, and we want to do something where we can still perform, and at this point, we don’t care what it is. We just want to be together.'”


Hassell said he’ll get a chance to talk with all of his students Monday night, on the first night of band camp, which they will still have, despite the cancellation of the competitions. There might not be any competitions on Saturdays around the state, but marching bands will still be able to perform at football games, parades, and other events.

He says in his 21 years as being a band director — nine at Carroll — nothing has compared to 2020. However, Hassell says what he and his students went through back in March will help them through this as well. He explains that teachers and students had to learn on the fly when it came to doing online courses, and that’s the approach they’ll have to take now for the marching band season.

“It’s kind of like building an airplane at the same time you’re flying it,” Hassell said. “But if there’s a bright spot to this, it’s that we came through that in March and we learned from that. We’ve spent the last seven months designing this show, and now we have to completely reimagine everything about it in five days.”

Every marching band, every year, usually has a title and a theme to their show. Hassell says the title for Carroll’s show this year was “We Rise.”

“It was about overcoming adversity,” Hassell said with a chuckle. “We always try to have a theme that is a life lesson that we can teach the kids.”

So where does the Carroll Charger Pride go from here? Hassell says they’ll still have band camp, which begins Monday night. There might not be a competition season in 2020, but he says they can still, at least, work on the basics of marching band this week, like learning the techniques of marching and playing their instruments. He says it’ll be a unique challenge, with masks and social distancing in play this year.

After that, Hassell says he’s pretty sure they’ll save “We Rise” for the future, when they can actually perform the show for competition and in front of judges. So he and his staff will probably be working on a new, alternative show with different music, and asking the students for input.

“Obviously the circumstances change on a daily basis, so we’re going to have to be flexible to go along with that,” Hassell said.