Fort Clarke Middle's band wins Sudler Cup

Fort Clarke Middle School Symphonic Band seventh and eighth grade advanced percussion students participate in class. The Fort Clarke Middle School Symphonic Band recently received the national Sudler Cup Award for excellence in concert performance.

Doug Finger/Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, January 19, 2012 at 4:31 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 19, 2012 at 8:27 p.m.

The Fort Clarke Middle School Band would not have applied for one of the most prestigious awards in middle school music had it not been for the help and support of its band community.

And as it turned out, the decision to apply was the right one.

Fort Clarke Middle’s band recently was named a winner of the Sudler Cup, an award bestowed by the Phillip Sousa Foundation for longtime excellence in band performance.

Fort Clarke is the first band in Florida to receive the award in 25 years and one of only two state bands to have earned the honor since its inception in 1985. Since then, the Sudler Cup has been awarded to nearly 50 middle school bands. The Alachua County band is one of four being honored this year.

W. Everett McConn, the band’s director for the past 14 years, said he had doubted his band would win.

“I wouldn’t have applied except last year we won at the Grand National Adjudicator’s Invitational,” he said.

Fort Clarke won top honors at the Grand National Adjudicator’s Invitational Middle School Band Festival in 2011. The band has received the highest rating possible — superior — in the Florida Band Masters Music Performance Assessments for the past 13 years.

After the national win, the Sousa Foundation invited McConn to apply for the award, McConn said.

“So I said, ‘What the heck,’ ” he said.

It still took the help of devoted parents to assemble years of materials for the applications.

“I frankly didn’t think we had won it,” he said, until he received a short email last week.

The band also must perform in a recognition concert, where the award will be bestowed.

At first, McConn said he was elated by the news.

“Wow, that’s incredible, that’s wonderful,” he recalled thinking, “and then I went, ‘Oh no.’ It was elation and exhilaration and a little bit of dread.”

McConn said his students put in the hard work necessary to win the award, practicing during the school day and during additional hours before school.

“Musically speaking, we work on playing above the level of the average middle school,” he said. “Most of the middle school bands here aren’t average.”

Alachua County public school bands, overall, perform well across the state, with Gainesville High School taking home the state title this school year and five high school bands competing in the state competition.

Judges have consistently rated Fort Clarke as an exceptional band program, commenting that the band sounds “exceptionally mature” and that “fine teaching is evident.”

Alex Kaminsky, band director at Buchholz High School, said McConn’s commitment to excellence helps area high school band programs. Kaminsky wrote a recommendation letter for the band.

“The Fort Clarke students are generally some of the most motivated band students that come into the Buchholz band program,” he said. “The top players from Fort Clarke end up being the top players in the Buchholz High School band program.”

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