WILLIAMSON — A nearly packed roomful of people showed their support in getting uniforms for band members of Mingo Central High School at Tuesday evening’s meeting of the Mingo County Board of Education.
Introduced by a speech from Pam Surber, vice president of the MCHS band’s boosters club, the issue was discussed at length, with support coming from an audience made up of parents, booster members, school faculty and members of the band.
“What message are you sending to these students?” Surber asked during her speech. “They give up part of their summer to practice and prepare for the football season. They are in hot and cold temperatures, wind, rain and snow, supporting their football team who has uniforms.
“You are sending them a message that they are not important enough,” Surber said. “Then we wonder why our band is so small.”
Surber further said that “the majority of the people in this county did not want this school, and now you want them to pay for the things that should have been taken care of before it opened.”
She made the point that the school’s football team, which has roughly 70 players, needed two jerseys, a home and an away, for each player, totalling 140. Surber then presented what MCHS band members wear: a polo, a windbreaker, or a sweatshirt.
She asked Superintendent Randy Keathley for figures on how much both the jerseys and the windbreakers cost, but he said that he didn’t have them with him.
Keathley said that money has been set aside for half of the students in band to purchase a jersey. Surber said that there were currently 21 students in the band, but that the number was anticipated to grow now that football season had ended and concert season would soon begin.
Surber said that a single uniform for a student would cost $497.57.
“Were the boosters for the football team asked to buy uniforms?” Surber asked. “I would understand if this were an older school, but it’s not.”
Keathley explained that, through working with the school itself and the extracurricular programs, it was decided together as to what items were necessary to even get programs off the ground. For the football team, jerseys were deemed the necessary item. For the band, it was instruments.
“We bought what was requested of the school, and what the priority was,” the superintendent said.
“Do you want them to look like other bands when they perform or be ashamed,” Surber asked. “Are you embarrassed by how the band looks when they perform?”
“No, I am not,” Keathley said. “I am never embarrassed by our students.”
“Well, they are,” Surber said. “And that should be your concern.”
Surber sat down in the audience after that, which allowed for other audience members present in support of uniforms for the band to have the floor.
Syndi Blackmon, who was present with her niece, Kailey Stuart, took the floor. Blackmon showed how Stuart, a ninth-grade member of the band, was attending the meeting in her current band uniform: blue jeans, shoes and a Mingo Central sweatshirt that she claimed anyone could buy.
“We’re embarrassed everytime we go out there,” Stuart said to the board.
“The band is supposed to stand out from the audience,” Sadie Christian, also a ninth-grade member of the band, called out from the back of the room.
“You still represent the band,” Board president William Duty said to Stuart. “And you should be proud of that.”
Duty said that he had been unaware of the uniform issue.
“Each one of you who came here tonight have made poignant statements,” Duty said. “We won’t ignore it.”
“You know she’s freezing to death when she’s playing the trumpet,” Blackmon said. It was noted that no outerwear, such as gloves or rain ponchos has been purchased for members of the band.
Michell Cline told the story of her daughter, a member of the band, and how she had to handle harsh weather conditions.
“Her hands were pink, frozen to the point of numbness which made it hard for her to blow the horn. She was in the rain, but she still supported the team,” Cline said. “It’s absolutely appalling and ridiculous to have a million dollar school that can’t afford jackets or gloves. Every other program is important as every other one at the school. There’s no excuse for it.”
“The band didn’t ever give up!” an audience member called out.
Boardmember Dave Farley “made a challenge,” as he put it, when he announced that he would purchase a uniform himself by pitching $500 in. He also said that he would personally purchase a uniform for Tug Valley High School as well.
Surber thanked him, but said that he shouldn’t have to do that.
“I don’t want our seniors to graduate without getting uniforms again,” Surber said.
“Hopefully we see the band in full uniforms in April,” Duty said.
A chorus of “I hope so,” emanated from the audience. The MCHS band has its ratings that month.
Surber spoke with the Daily News regarding the issue and said that the “bottom line” was that “our students need to look like the other bands when they’re performing.” She pointed out that band from schools in other counties that had undergone consolidation, like Lincoln County High School and River View High School in McDowell County, had uniforms during their first year of consolidation.
Christian told the Daily News that if she were to perform in a uniform she would “feel accomplished.”
“I would feel professional. I already take pride in what I do, but I would take a lot more if I looked the part,” Christian said.
Keathley told the Daily News that while “it would be nice to have traditional uniforms, it is not a priority of the music department at MCHS.
“I’m very pleased that the boosters are involved in their interests,” Keathley said. “It’s good to have the community involved and I respect their position. I strongly support the arts.”
The superintendent said that the focus of MCHS was academics, but also said that extracurricular activities were integral in developing students and bringing out leadership and other qualities.
However, Keathley did mention that he would like to see the band in uniforms, saying that the band would reach its “full potential,” in uniforms. He called it a necessary, combined effort between multiple groups to ensure that the potential could be reached.
MCHS band director, Terry Soltesz, was not present. According to Surber, he “had nothing to do,” with the attendance at Tuesday evening’s meeting.