When students don the uniform’s of That Altus Band at Altus High School they are playing for a program that has a long history of success.
Since 1969, the band has accumulated 14 Sweepstakes Awards — band’s equivalent of a state championship — but it has been awhile since the band last won the award and Mary Runyan’s final year as the band director was good timing.
“It has been 16 years since we last won Sweepstakes,” Runyan said. “A lot of those years we missed it by just one judge.”
With that in mind, Runyan and her students traveled to Norman on April 12 to perform in the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association’s State Concert Band Contest in an attempt to bring the Sweepstakes Award back to Altus and send Runyan out on top.
After a long day of performing, they were awarded for their superior performance.
“In order to make sweepstakes, you have to make a superior rating and there are five ratings for music competition with one being a superior. We go to three OSSAA competitions every year, marching, contest band, and sight reading and so in order to win sweepstakes, you have to make a superior rating at all three of those contests,” Runyan said. “We work hard to do that. This year, out of 32 five-A high school bands I believe there were seven or eight awarded sweepstakes but on this side of I-35, it was just Altus, Guthrie and Western Heights. So, we were one of the top bands in five-A and we’re very excited about it. The kids were really excited about it, especially the senior class.”
Though the band was awarded the ultimate prize, the road to sweepstakes was paved with bumps along the way. Despite the challenges, the band brought the award back to Altus for the first time in 16 years.
“It’s always a work in progress although we have some really talented students this year. We have four All-Staters in our band this year and that’s the most we’ve had in a while. We also had 25 students make the All-Region band,” Runyan said. “You know when you have good students to work with, it sure makes it a lot more fun. They’re very talented, but it still takes a lot of work to pull it all together.”
One of the major hurdles this year was the trip to Hawaii. Due to the band’s involvement in the Waikiki Holiday Parade, a lot of focus was put on raising money for the trip. It was a stressful challenge for the band but it was one they met head on while still doing what was necessary to do well in the band’s many competitions throughout the year.
“We were really hooked up in the fundraising for the Hawaii trip. We had to have our last payments turned in by the first of October and so August and September were pretty stressful,” Runyan said. “There are always bumps in the road you have to overcome but really it has been a pretty smooth year.”
This has been one of the best years for That Altus Band in quite some time. Runyan credits her students with all of the success thanks to their hard work and determination.
“As a band, it’s more of a group effort than individuals. We had two really good drum majors this year and our section leaders really rose to the occasion. It’s pretty common to come in here after school to find lots of kids practicing and helping each other and helping underclassmen with their music,” Runyan said. “I get here at seven in the morning and by five o’clock I’m ready to go home and lots of days I have to run kids out of the band room because they want to stay in here. It’s kind of their home away from home and they like to hang out here and practice.”
Altus Junior High School Band Director Jeff Hastings contacted Dr. Ed Huckeby to compose a piece of music to commemorate Runyan’s 37 years.
At Thursday’s Spring Concert, Huckeby led That Altus Band in the performance of the song while Runyan sat in the crowd and watched.
The piece, titled “Run!” was played live for the first time before a full house at the Eula B. Peterson Auditorium on the AHS campus and was a fitting way to end Runyan’s career and the band’s season.
“I thought the piece was fantastic, it was fast and exciting and had lots of of percussion,” Runyan said. “I was a little nervous because that was the first time the band was directed by Dr. Huckeby but they did extremely well and I’m really honored and excited that my name is on the dedication for that piece.”
Reach Ryan Lewis at 580-482-1221, ext. 2076.