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Second place is not enough for Shawn Sullivan or the Starkville High School band he directs.
Sullivan said the SHS band placed second in both 2011 and 2010 at the Chunky River Marching Classic at East Central Community College. He said the SHS band has never won the contest outright until this month.
"It's been one of our goals to win that contest, and we just got over the hump and took care of it. The kids have just really bought into what we've tried to get them to accomplish. We've worked hard to reach each goal one step at a time."
The SHS band topped more than 20 other bands from across the state to earn the Overall Grand Champion title at the Chunky River Marching Classic, simultaneously regaining the high school record for most consecutive superior ratings in the state.
"Before I got here, the record had stopped, but we're on five years right now of straight superior ratings," Sullivan said. "I'm just really proud of these kids for all the hard work they've done, and I just thank our administration for the support they give the band program. We're just really fortunate to have administrators who understand the importance of a well-rounded education."
Katie Wood, a senior in the SHS band, said the Chunky River Marching Classic brought the marching competition season to a cathartic close.
"It's kind of a good way to end your senior year," Wood said. "We've been trying to get this for three years now, and we've finally achieved it."
Another senior, Darby Kolle, said she agrees with Wood. She said she also likes the example the past five years of all-superior ratings set for future band members.
"I see it as a good way to leave the band because it feels like we're leaving a good program now, to see it the way it was a few years ago and to look at where it is now," Kolle said.
Evan Thaim, a junior in the band, said he sees the record his predecessors have built as a challenge to keep that record going.
"It's kind of like a life lesson to us," Thaim said. "Even if you're not going to continue with band (in college) ... if you put your heart and soul into everything you do ... you can have great success."
Sullivan said the seniors have played a leadership role in the band's success this year, but the younger performers have also been good learners. The number of seniors in the band rose from eight in 2011 to 23 in 2012, he said, but the band has a total of about 140 students, about 50 of whom are freshmen.
"The upperclassmen have really done a great job helping to mold the younger students into good band members," Sullivan said. "They've just done a great job leading this group."
Wood said helping each other comes naturally to the band's members.
"We're like a big family," Wood said, "and it's one of those things where if your younger sibling needs help, you help them."
Another senior, Shaina Kemp, said other reasons the band was able to break through to first place at the Chunky River Marching Classic this year include Sullivan's abilities as band director. When she goes to college at Alabama State University, she said, she intends to join ASU's band, and she feels Sullivan has prepared her well.
"He teaches not only how to play the music but also how to put feeling into the music," Kemp said. "(Also,) our show (this year) is out of the box. It's not a show that you expect a high school marching band to do, so when we're performing it, the judges are blown away."
The SHS band's halftime show this year is a tribute to famous Mississippi artists, including Faith Hill, B.B. King, Three Doors Down, Elvis Presley, Sam Cooke, Blind Melon and the Canton Spirituals. Wood said the show also features a voiceover explaining the life and achievements of each artist featured.
"One of our judges in one of our contests said he actually learned something from our show," Wood said. "We really put all our effort into making it this big performance for everyone's entertainment."