Wiregrass Ranch High band director Josh Hobbs (seated) & drum majors (left to right) Ryan McHale, Hannah Kim, Daniil Fortuna and Alex Kopp hold up their state championship banner, a first for the school, as well as for all of Pasco County.

At an event where there is no scoreboard and your fate lies in the hands of judges, you really never know. But Josh Hobbs, the Wiregrass Ranch High (WRH) band director, was pretty convinced that of the five finalists for Florida’s Class 4A State Championship, his Bulls were among the best.

“We thought we had a good chance to be in the top three and we would have been excited about that,” Hobbs said.

The Bulls had turned in one of their best runs of the season at the State semi-finals to make the finals, and the band was even better at the finals.

He still wasn’t expecting what happened next.

First place.

State Champs.

Boom!

“It was surreal,” Hobbs says. “It was shocking. We were flabbergasted.”

The Bulls’ performances were history-making. While acclaimed as one of the area’s best bands for years, on Nov. 23 the Wiregrass Ranch Marching Bulls became the first Pasco County group ever to capture a Florida Marching Band Championship.

“It is a first for the school, and a first for Pasco County,” says Hobbs.

The Bulls capped a great season with a magnificent and grueling final day. They had to compete against 15 other high school bands in Orlando for the semifinals, and then after being one of five teams selected to move on, had to load all of their instruments and uniforms to drive to Daytona Beach for the final that night.

They were up against perennial powerhouses in the high school marching band world, including Seminole, the defending champions, as well as Bradenton’s Lakewood Ranch and Orlando’s University High.

No problem.

The Red X

Gone are the days when a marching band was primarily entertainment under the Friday Night Lights. The band performs at every football game, but beyond bringing excitement to the bleachers, the crowd provides an opportunity for the band to do a live run-through of its show in front of an audience, honing the music and marching skills needed to be competitive against the best high school marching bands in the state.

Hobbs, who is in his second year at WRH after coming over from Wesley Chapel, credits both the students’ hard work and the design of the show for their State Championship win.

The show, called The Red X, depicts a plague. That may not be your typical marching band fare, but Hobbs says the band members, section leaders and drum majors all bought into it and made it great. 

“They were super excited about it and worked really hard,” he says. “We had a great leadership team to get everyone on the same page and stayed really focused throughout the year to set small goals, to achieve our big goal, which is to get where we did.”

Music in The Red X included Linkin Park’s “In The End,” Alanis Morissette’s “Uninvited,” plus classical pieces, an orchestral piece and a band piece.

“They had a great theme and they really sold it,” says Tom Viking, the fine arts program coordinator who oversees all fine arts programming in kindergarten through grade 12 for all Pasco County Schools. “They played well and performed well.”

Months Of Rehearsals

Rehearsals for the show started last May. Color guard and percussion met over the summer to rehearse, and the entire band had two weeks of band camp before the 2019-20 school year started. Every day at camp, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., the band practiced.

Students started with the fundamentals of marching, learning how to stand, how to step, how to play warmups or toss a flag. Then, they started learning the placements and continued practicing two or three hours a day, at least three days a week, throughout August, September, October and November.

With 140 band members, plus support staff and volunteers, this adds up to tens of thousands of hours of work.

Hannah Kim is the band’s senior drum major and flute soloist. She’s been in the band her entire high school career and hopes to continue playing in college this fall.

Kim says what it takes to reach that pinnacle is “a lot of endurance and consistency.” 

First In Class & Even Beating The Bigger Bands

“I happened to be there that night and saw all of the bands, which was really cool,” says Viking. “It was a tight margin.”

He explains that bands are divided into five categories, based on how many students are on the field, not the size of the school, which is how schools are typically classified for sports classifications.

WRH is a 4A school, the second-largest category behind 5A in Florida.

“Not only did they win their category statewide, they placed third overall,” explains Viking. “That means of the 5A bands, only two scored higher than Wiregrass Ranch.”

There are several adjudicators and each judge studies one component very carefully, he says, such as footwork or music, design or color guard. Adjudication is meticulous, and bands are judged precisely in many categories.

“Wiregrass Ranch has been in the finals before,” says Viking. “They’ve been in the hunt, and this time, the stars aligned for them.”

After making it to the finals her freshman and junior year, Hannah says it was exciting to not only reach the finals her senior year, but to finally pull off the big win.

“It feels amazing,” she says. “Honestly, I just feel so proud. We work hard every year, and I felt like all our hard work was recognized.”

Her unique perspective included watching the band perform from the drum major platform, seeing the show take shape from its very beginning, but she also got to perform in the show as the flute soloist.

“It was a cool experience. When I got drum major, I was a little sad because I was going to miss marching on the field and playing the flute,” Hannah explains, “but it was awesome to get the best of both worlds.”

Kudos To The Director & His Support Staff

“Josh Hobbs is home grown in Pasco County,” says Viking, taking pride that Hobbs not only has chosen to spend his career in Pasco, but also graduated from Wesley Chapel High (WCH), where he participated in the marching band.

In fact, Hobbs’ former school also competed this year. WCH was in Class 2A when Hobbs led it, but moved up to Class 3A this year. The Wildcats also made the finals, finishing fifth in the state for its class.

At WRH, Hobbs has the benefit of significant support, including a strong band at John Long Middle School that feeds into the high school.

“He’s got a great staff that works with him, a great middle school program, and a great group of parents,” says Viking. “It’s a special thing.”

Viking says the typical Wiregrass Ranch High band kid probably started in the band at Long as a sixth grader, and many of the students have performed together ever since.

“It’s a lot of hard work through a lot of years,” says Viking. “They’re passionate about what they do and the team members they do it with.”

This year, Hobbs says all that hard work paid off.

“The skills these kids build through the fall — time management, discipline, and working harder than they ever knew they could work — and then to be rewarded the way they were, makes it all worth it.”

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