CHARLESTON, W.Va. — It was Nitro High School’s competition to lose. Last year, their school band ousted Capital High from its 11-year winning streak.
“We’re back,” said Brianna Blankenship, Capital High’s band director, who just began leading the band this year. “What happened last year really drove them this year. They worked really hard and they deserve everything coming their way.”
With higher combined scores from the band’s marching, playing, color guard, percussion and field commander, The Pride of Capital High edged out Nitro to return Tuesday night as the Grand Champion of the 70th annual Gazette-Mail Kanawha County Band and Majorette Festival.
“Capital High School’s band program encompasses excellence,” Blankenship said. “It’s had a long tradition of being a really great program, and I’m just thrilled to be here.”
Up until the end of the night, the two schools were neck-and-neck. It was the general effect category, where Nitro marched away with a silver medal and Capital with a gold medal, that tipped the scale.
When that final category was announced, members of the Capital High band looked around at each other wildly. Had they really won? When it finally sank in that, yes, they had, all 79 members of the band ran to grab onto the trophy.
“We brought it back!” one Capital High student yelled as he lifted the trophy high above his head. Students joined him in chanting, “We brought it back! We brought it back!”
More than 450 high school students performed Tuesday night at the University of Charleston Stadium at Laidley Field for the festival. To mark the 70th anniversary of the event, former band directors and majorettes were recognized on the field before Marshall University’s Marching Thunder band performed.
High school bands of all sizes performed. Smaller bands, like Sissonville High’s 32-member group, squared up against the bands of Capital High and Nitro High, which had 79 and 73 members, respectively.
Carrie Long, 16, a sophomore at George Washington, was crowned Miss Kanawha Majorette at the end of the night. Long was surprised to find out she’d won, considering she has been twirling a baton for only about five years.
She only started after she came to this very same festival five years ago. As she sat in the stands, watching batons fly high into the air and land safely back into the twirlers’ hands, she imagined herself on the field.
“I believe it’s not about the number of years you’ve been doing it,” she said. “It’s about your work ethic.”
And Long, her band’s feature twirler, said she’s been hard at work all summer. Many of her competitors start at a much younger age, so she felt like she needed to work extra hours to make sure she could compete with them.
“It’s always been my dream to win this title,” Long said.
And what made the dream better was that Long’s close friend, Kaitlyn Cline, was last year’s Miss Kanawha Majorette.
Long has known Cline for as long as she’s been twirling. The two take lessons from the same coach, they’re on the same competitive baton twirling team and they both were members of George Washington High’s Patriot Band.
“It was, honestly, the best thing, being able to pass it on to someone I know,” said Cline, 18, now a student at West Virginia University. “I know she definitely deserved it.”