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One of the most exciting dynamics of Grand Nationals is the inclusion of a semifinals round. While even the largest super regionals jump straight from prelims to finals, the extra day on the Grand Nats schedule, allows that extra performance opportunity for over 30 of the top bands in the nation. With 20 different states represented by 91 bands, Grand Nationals truly is the nation’s premiere marching band competition.
How exactly does Semifinals competition work?
The semifinals selection and scheduling process are a bit different than other BOA competitions because class national championships are based on semifinals results and because there are simply so many bands in attendance.
National semifinals always include a minimum of 30 bands. Those bands are selected by taking the top 11 highest scoring bands from each prelims adjudication panel for 22 total bands, then adding the next 8 highest scoring bands regardless of the panel. This ensures that bands from both adjudication panels in prelims are well represented in finals.
Once those 30 bands are selected, additional semifinalist spots are added for any band that was not already included in semifinals but was one of the top two scoring bands in their class on their panel. This ensures there are at least four bands from each class in semifinals, which is critical because national class champion awards are presented based on semifinals results.
Once the semifinalists are selected, the schedule is created. While all bands have a chance of advancing to finals, BOA chooses to group the top 22 scoring bands regardless of the panel in the middle performance slots, with the first four and last four spots in semifinals going to the next 8 scoring bands. This provides judges the most accurate assessment of those top-scoring bands in prelims which have the highest chance of advancing to finals. Any bands that have advanced to semifinals based on class representation are given the earliest spots in semifinals, frequently performing before 7 a.m.
Since the two judging panels are essentially operating separate but parallel contests throughout the two days of prelims, we’ve separated our preview of top bands by panel, so you can see who any given band will be competing directly against for one of that panel’s semifinalist spots.
Top bands on Panel 1
Grand Nationals is always an intense competition from the very first block. This year’s first block includes former national champion Plymouth-Canton as well as strong Class A competitor Estill County.
While it’s been nearly two decades since PCEP’s national championship year, the band has continued to compete on the national stage consistently earning spots as a national semifinalist.
Estill County’s train show electrified audiences at the Johnson City Regional. The band not only won their class and swept captions in prelims, they also earned a competing spot in finals based on score, beating dozens of schools more than twice their size.
Panel 1 resumes judging on Thursday afternoon with another line up of excellent bands. Lake Hamilton is a program that a seen a lot of growth over the last few years, and it’s exciting to see them representing Arkansas on the national stage. Soon after we’ll see the Centerville Jazz Band and past national finalists Union and Homestead.
Union and Homestead will both be aiming to show they deserve a spot in the tight race for Saturday night’s finals. Each has had some super-successful seasons in the recent past, but they’ve also had years when they finished just outside of finals. Both have strong shows this year and have already been rather successful at the regional and Super Regional level, but that’s no guarantee they can turn it into another national finals appearance.
Saturday kicks off quite early with back-to-back performances from several of North Carolina and Virginia’s best Panther Creek, James Madison, Rock Ridge, and West Carteret. James Madison has had a breakout year, winning the Maryland Regional and finishing third at the Lynchburg Regional.
This Friday morning block also contains many of the top Texas bands competing this weekend: Vandegrift, Leander, Hebron, and The Woodlands.
Vandegrift and Leander were the highest placing groups from San Antonio that are also competing at Grand Nationals. They’re also neighbor schools in the same district. Leander earned second place in prelims, while Vandy grabbed second place in finals. So which of these will have the upper hand in Indianapolis? You’ll have to watch all weekend to find out!
Hebron has one of the most challenging shows this year, and every year. The technical demand of what these students are being asked to play on their horns — while marching around the field — is quite impressive. Watching Hebron is one of many times this weekend you’ll forget you're watching high school students perform.
Of course, you can’t forget about The Woodlands, just 6 years removed from their national championship in 2013. The Woodlands are back with another crowd-pleasing show tangentially related to a means of transportation. This year we join a group of sailors as they enjoy a day off in New York City. It’s a blast to watch and you can see on the student's faces how much fun they have performing it.
California’s Ayala is another top group performing in prelims Friday morning. Their nearly 10-point margin of victory at the California Regional is as clear a sign as any that they mean business this season. Another national finals appearance is certainly a possibility for the band making the farthest trip to Grand Nats.
Panel 1’s last block on Friday includes two impressive under the radar bands: Rockford and Greenfield-Central. Rockford finish 14th last season, just two spots away from national finals. That’s an exciting position to be, and makes them ripe to make an impressive jump this season. Greenfield-Central is a strong AA band from the Indianapolis area. At the Indianapolis Super Regional, the band placed as high as 8th in individual music during prelims, but fell short of making finals.
Top bands on Panel 2
The second panel will be judging many of Indiana’s best on Thursday night, including local powerhouses Avon and Carmel, each located just minutes from Lucas Oil. Avon and Carmel have competed head-to-head for decades and each has numerous regional, super regional, state, and even grand national championships to their name. So far this season, Avon has had the upper hand. They’ve won several local competitions, and most recently the Indianapolis Super Regional. However, Carmel has a history of late-season pushes, and should not be ruled out.
Center Grove, Lawrence Township, and Ben Davis have the privilege of performing in between these two consistent national medalists, contributing to this unbelievably stacked block of incredible performances.
Despite their large appearance or sound on the field, North Hardin is one of the smaller schools competing at Grand Nationals. In class AA, North Hardin has stacked up many awards and accolades, most recently being named super regional class champion in Indianapolis just narrowly ahead of Marian Catholic.
William Mason and Park Vista are two big unknowns heading into Grand Nationals. While Park Vista did compete at the Orlando Regional, placing fourth behind three national finalists, it’ll be over a month between that Orlando performance and their performance at Grand Nats. And we all know, a lot can change in just one month. William Mason, on the other hand, hasn’t competed at a single BOA event all season. After taking a sharp dive in 2017, they’ve been rapidly climbing back up toward their personal record 3rd place finish in 2016. With all the outstanding bands in attendance this season, an improvement on last year’s 7th place finish would be a huge accomplishment.
One group that can be expected to have some incredible growth in the two weeks since San Antonio is Claudia Taylor Johnson. Their crowd-friendly 2019 production is so much fun, and just like The Woodlands, you can see the joy on the kids faces as they give it their all. CTJ has gone all out for this Lion King-themed show. From backdrops to costumes, this show brings the classic story to life, and might just make you shed a tear.
Bassett and James F. Byrnes are two other outstanding bands competing late Thursday night that you can’t miss. They’ve each had much success on a regional level and have previously made national semifinals on multiple occasions.
Friday morning, Harrison and Fishers are two of the strongest bands that will be judged by panel 2. With Harrison fresh off another regional champion title in Powder Springs, they have a lot of momentum heading into Grand Nationals. While the Harrison band did make national finals in their last appearance, that last appearance was in 2015, when this year’s seniors were still in middle school. Fishers’ prelims performance in 2018 earned an impressive 11th place overall. Unfortunately, prelims scores only matter in advancing to semifinals, and their placement in semifinals fell to 18th, below the cutoff for advancing to finals.
The last block Friday night appropriately includes a huge number of bands on the bubble of making semifinals. For many of them, this could be the last performance of the season, or it could be a demonstration they deserve one more performance the next day. Brownsburg and Blue Valley West are just two of those bands that we’ll be cheering for Friday night.
Bourbon County and Archbishop Alter are two rock-star class A bands that will hope to claim one of the two guaranteed spots in semifinals for bands in their class on panel 2. Bourbon County could also advance to semifinals on score, especially considering their performance at Louisville. In prelims, Bourbon County beat both North Hardin and Franklin before slipping behind Franklin in finals.
Class AA is a bit of a tougher picture in Panel 2. With only two guaranteed spots in semifinals for each class from each panel, a band like Ardrey Kell would have an easier time grabbing one of those class representation spots if they weren’t on the same panel as North Hardin and Marian Catholic.
The last Texas band to perform in prelims, Round Rock will be another strong reminder of how powerful Texas bands can be. Their 12th place finish at San Antonio was six spots higher than their 2017 finish, and in 2017 Round Rock finished 12th at Grand Nationals. The Dragon Band has a long track record of making huge improvements as they push to the end of their season, so don’t expect to see the same Round Rock you saw back in September.
An exciting three days of performances awaits
All things considered, this year’s Grand National Championships is certainly going to be one to remember. With bands California to Florida in attendance, it truly is the ultimate marching contest all year, which is why you should make sure to tune in and catch every single performance right here on FloMarching.