HOWLAND - The first time he beheld 100 yards of Marching Tigers in their glory - a total of 207 Howland High School band members stretched from goal line to goal line - senior drum major David Ottney had tears in his eyes.
They used to be 120 yards of Marching Tigers, back in the 1980s under the leadership of then-band director Jim Jackson, back in the days of the bigger bands.
Back then, they step-kicked to the tune of "If My Friends Could See Me Now," but today's song of choice is "Sweet Caroline."
Special to the Tribune Chronicle
The 207 members of the Howland High School Marching Band stretch from goal line to goal line — 100 yards of Marching Tigers. It’s the first time since about the 1980s since the band has topped 200 members.
For a while, the numbers fell away. Stretching the field was out of the questions. But now they only need about 40 more people to achieve their goal of reviving the original 120-yard-long marching line.
"We thought we would bring back the tradition, and a lot of people are responding to it really well," high school band director Greg Rezabek said. "It's not just about the numbers, it's about quality of instruction and giving them a positive experience."
Rezabek, who is in his 13th year of teaching at the school, said this is the first time he has been instructing more than 200 students at once. But surprisingly, he has had very few issues.
"This is a great group this year. They're really here to do well. I can tell they want the band to do good," he said.
Senior drum major Emelia Sherin said everyone in band is there for one reason: to make music.
"And it's beautiful," she said. "(They're) all different, from their looks and personality, and they all mesh together to form this one cohesive unit. You would think that it would be a mess. But they're all attention and very sweet to work with," she said.
Still, a band as large as Howland's is not without its challenges.
"Logistics, things like getting them on and off the bus, the chairs ... planning. We plan a good week in advance having things here before they even step foot inside the door," Rezabek said.
He credited the success of the program to his fellow directors, Shawn Reynolds, middle school, and Tim Sharek, elementary and high school.
"I have some great directors who work at the elementary and the middle school, starting them out in the program. We would be nothing without them," he said.
"We have three amazing band directors to work with and we've grown up with them, all of us," she said.
Junior drum major Nolan Nadler said despite the large number of people at practice, there is little to no conflict. He also said he enjoys being one of their leaders, someone they can look up to.
"When I entered high school, I personally found it difficult because I didn't have too many friends. They just kind of took me in and this love of band came about. I've tried to make sure every freshman, every new member of band has that same experience that I had," he said.
Ottney said band is one of the most welcoming groups in school.
"When you're in band, you're part of a family, whether you want to be or not. If you're an outcast, you're going to find a home in band. We'll take care of you," he said.
Sherin likened her experience in band to having 206 brothers and sisters.
"It's overwhelming but it's amazing," she said.
And on game night, when all 207 members become one as they are stretched from end zone to end zone, stepping and kicking and marching - it is truly a sight to behold.
"That is intense. That is one of the most powerful, most beautiful moments in our show. Because it really showcases how big we are, how powerful we are and how good we sound," Nadler said.
"I feel like it individualizes everyone. It gives everyone a chance to shine and have their moment. It's breathtaking, bringing this back after 30-plus years," Sherin said.
The 100 yards of Marching Tigers will make an appearance 7:30 p.m. Wednesday for Niles Band Night.