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THIS is the super fan guide. If you’re reading this, you’ve memorized last year’s St. Louis results, you know what page of the adjudication handbook lists the current classification enrollment cut-offs, and you’ve written essays on the recent incorporation of half-tenths in the adjudication system and the benefits of giving judges greater control over small spreads.
Well, maybe not all that, but you’re at least interested in learning more and taking a deeper look at some of the names you likely already recognize. We’ll also discuss some of the other dynamics of the contest like split adjudication panels.
A season finale for many
Typically St. Louis is seen as a stepping stone on the way to Grand Nationals. While we’ve never seen all of the St. Louis bands or even all the finalists attend Grand Nats the same year, there’s usually a large enough number of finalists signed up that we can expect to not see a final product this weekend. Based on a quick look, this year there’s only one top band at St. Louis that will be traveling to Grand Nats: Union.
That means St. Louis won’t be the usual checkpoint to see which groups are on a trajectory to make a national finals appearance. For many bands, this will be one of their final competitions of the season, and for most of them, the largest competition all season. Others will be competing at other super regionals in Indianapolis or St. Louis, but still wrapping their seasons at least a week or two prior to Grand Nats.
Dynamics of split judging panels
Beginning last season, Super Regional prelims were judged by two different panels, alternating every other block (about every 14 bands). To fairly select bands for finals from both panels, the finalist selection process was changed to include the top five scoring bands from each panel, plus the next four highest-scoring bands regardless of panel. In theory, that means a band that finished in tenth-place from panel 1 could score higher than a fifth-place band from panel 2, but the band from panel 2 would advance to finals over the band from panel 1 to guarantee at least five bands from each panel are represented.
We say "in theory" because this hasn’t happened since the system was put in place. Despite the potential for one panel’s scores to be drastically inflated over another, we’ve seen a fairly even split of finalists from each panel advance to last year’s super regional finals. That’s because of the high-quality professional adjudicators selected by Bands of America. While it may look like judges are just making up numbers, there’s actually a strict process where judges reference a series of criteria to determine which range of scores a band belongs in. Only after that score neighborhood is determined does the judge assign a specific score in relation to the other bands in that neighborhood.
Deep dive into top competitors
Mettling In Medals
Returning champion Broken Arrow is in a prime position to retain their champion status this weekend. Their 2019 production “Yee Haw!” was a crowd favorite at the Orlando Regional last weekend and will certainly be as well-received in St. Louis. But, unlike years past, they don’t have a perfect record of wins over all of their competitors. Just last November at Grand Nationals, Blue Springs finished above Broken Arrow in all three rounds of competition.
To complicate factors even more, Rosemount, who has previously never placed above fifth at St. Louis, finished narrowly behind Blue Springs at this year’s Cedar Falls Regional and beat the Golden Regiment in prelims. Now, before you start drawing all the connections and predict Rosemount walking home with a gold medal, consider some of the other contest dynamics. It was an early regional, earlier than Blue Springs has ever competed, even in local competitions. It’s not at all uncommon to see bands swap placements as the season progresses, especially for some of these top bands who need every minute of rehearsal to perfect their challenging programs. If Broken Arrow competed in September, perhaps they would have been in a similar position.
That’s not to discount Rosemount, though. With their recent change in the design team, it would not be shocking to see Rosemount pull off an upset and seize the bronze medal, just like Jenks did last season. That is, unless Jenks is able to bring another incredible show as they did last season. Along with Jenks and Rosemount, several other groups will be vying for those tops spots in finals.
O’Fallon Township just earned their first national finals appearance last season, but found themselves in a similar position as Blue Springs did, with a tough challenge from Camdenton at the Cedar Falls Regional. Camdenton finished just under a point ahead in finals, after O’Fallon earned a 2.5-point lead in prelims. With the dynamics of the two-panel judging system mentioned above, Camdenton has a good opportunity to snag the fifth-place spot on their panel and guarantee a spot in finals, regardless of how the other panel scores its bands.
No strangers to national finals, Union and LD Bell will be looking to displace some of these returning finalists. There’s not much data on Union this year, and with Grand Nats in their future, they might stick out as a group that still has room for growth with an extended season. That’s because they will have four weeks' worth of room for growth. LD Bell already made finals at the DFW Regional this season alongside Coppell, another strong Texas band from their region.
The most intriguing storyline this weekend, however, may focus on Bixby. The band hasn’t competed at the St. Louis Super Regional in two years, but during those two years, they’ve competed head-to-head with top groups like Union and Jenks, and more often than not, come out on top. This weekend, we’ll get to see all three of those groups compete in Bands of America competition, and see if Bixby is able to hold onto their lead against these national finalists at a later-season event.
Panel 1 Contenders
Haltom, Lake Travis, and Stephen F. Austin are each in a similar position heading into St. Louis. They each have their own past finals appearances to look back on but are not guaranteed a spot this season. Haltom has made finals at St. Louis in the past as well as at the Atlanta Super Regional. Lake Travis made finals at the Austin Regional this season, ahead of some outstanding groups like Hendrickson and Round Rock. Lastly, SFA just made finals in Houston two weeks ago, setting them up to be in the running for a finals spot this week. However, both Lake Travis and SFA could find themselves stuck out of finals because of the panel division. If scores don’t go in their favor, they could find those last few spots behind picked up by groups in panel 2 instead.
Panel 2 Contenders
One of those bands from panel 2 that could pick up that spot is Franklin. The band has a strong history of Regional and Super Regional finals appearances, and even has a couple of Regional Champion titles throughout the year. Rockwood Summit is another band that could grab a spot near the top of panel 2. Their past successes include an appearance in finals at St. Louis.
That’s 15 groups mentioned so far, and we’ve only scratched the surface on bands in the running for a Super Regional finals spot. With only 14 of those finalist spots available, it’s going to be a huge accomplishment for each and every group that advances to the finals competition.
Setup For Success
Two more groups looking to make a finals appearance actually used to just be one school. At the time of Bentonville West’s opening, many stakeholders were concerned splitting the band would limit the competitive success of the program. In fact, there was even a big push to keep the two schools' bands combined. Fast-forward a few years later and now there are simply two outstanding Bentonville bands that compete at a high level.
There’s also a strong contingent of former St. Louis finalists that continue to perform at such a high level but will have a tough time making finals as the overall competitiveness has shot up. Grain Valley, Air Academy, Bellevue West, Lincoln, Fort Zumwalt North, and Kickapoo are a couple of those names. Each of these bands has at least one and some many super regional finalist positions in recent years, and would not be a surprise to see in the night show.
Carroll and Trinity are the other two Texas bands that haven’t been mentioned, and if there’s one rule in marching band, it’s don’t count out the Texas bands. If there’s going to be a surprise finalist, it could be one of these bands.