Community support backs growing St. Helens band program
The 2018 season for the St. Helens High School marching band has hit several high notes.
The band has the most members ever, has taken home accolades from several competitions and is heading to championships this weekend. It has also benefited from relationship-building with local businesses that have pitched in with their support.
Band Director Noelle Freshner said the band program continues to grow and, with 78 members, including 11 middle school students who perform in the color guard and pit, it's one of the largest bands the school has had during her tenure. Middle school students have participated before, but this year marks one of the largest groups to be involved, she noted.
The overall size of the band also bumped it up to the AA Division in the Northwest Association for Performing Arts. Bands with more than 72 members qualify for AA, but group size ranges from 72 to 150 members, meaning the St. Helens band is competing with large groups, some double its size. That presents challenges, but also pushes the band on a performance level, Freshner explained. In addition to new competitors, the band has also had to overcome obstacles earlier this year when a series of wildfires blanketed the Pacific Northwest, making it difficult for students to finish field work and putting the group in catch-up mode, Freshner said.
"The kids have been working really hard this season though," she added.
The marching band recently earned a third-place title and awards for high visuals and high auxiliary at the Pride of the Northwest competition in Grants Pass on Saturday, Oct. 13. During the annual PCI competition in Salem, the band earned a fourth-place award in its division and sixth overall.
The band's final competition of the season will be the Northwest Association for Performing Arts Championships on Oct. 27 at the University of Oregon.
This year's show, "The Shadow Effect," features a juxtaposition of lightness and darkness, with dramatic color guard costumes and pit members cloaked in hooded robes.
With a shortened competition season this year and fewer home football games, the band also plans to host a community performance night at Doc Ackerson Field on Tuesday, Oct. 30, at St. Helens High School at 7 p.m.
Funding needs for a growing group
Being able to support an ever-expanding band program can be financially challenging. Freshner said the program requires an annual budget of nearly $85,000, half of which goes to the marching band program. Each year's show requires new guard uniforms, customized set arrangements, props and salaries for support staff to work with the students.
In addition to soliciting business sponsorships, students host a variety of fundraisers throughout the year like can drives, popcorn sales, spaghetti dinners and partnership nights.
With a growing group, the band provides a force of involved students in the community, with each member taking on the role of a walking advertisement for local businesses.
"We want people to be shopping locally and supporting the local community, too," Freshner said. "If we can put our power behind it to support local businesses, we want to do that."
This year has also marked a key period of fundraising, sponsorship and community involvement for the band. Businesses have become involved not only as regular sponsors, but have also contributed resources and made donations of time and labor, which have been hugely beneficial, explained Kristina Saul, public relations officer for the St. Helens Band Patrons.
Each year, the band solicits sponsorships from local businesses to have business logos printed on band t-shirts, which the students wear year-round. For the first time, students solicited sponsorship from the city of St. Helens and Spirit of Halloweentown. Many businesses have stepped up to help the band in other ways.
Earlier this year, Joe Sheeley of Digital Graphiti spent several days working to spruce up graphics and logos on the St. Helens band trailer. Saul noted the contribution was probably worth close to $1,000 and wasn't something the band would have been able to do on its own. It took several days to remove rivets from the trailer before being able to steam off the old band decal, produce the new logo and then apply it to the trailer. Sheely said he just wanted to support the band in a time when it gets tougher for groups to find funding for their programs.
The trailer has a long and sentimental history with the band. In 2006, it was purchased by the Helwig family, who had two students in the band program between 2006 and 2013. At the time, Jim Syrstad, a teacher at the high school, helped install the first logo. The Helwig family sold the trailer at a discount to the band so it could continue to be used.
The trailer is still used to haul musical instruments, band uniforms and other supplies for competitions. The Helwig's daughter, Kacy Hughston, still works with the band as a member of instructional staff. She said it's important to her to stay involved with a group that meant so much when she was a student.
She said the trailer logo update was needed to modernize the growing band.
"I thought it was great. Times change and we need to change with them, and it was feeling a little outdated," Hughston said of the trailer's refreshed logo. "It represents the band as it is now and not how it was in the past."
Other businesses, like Scappoose Bagel and Stan's Refrigeration, have donated items such as food supplies and ice, Saul explained. One business, St. Helens Auto Center, also offered to work on an ongoing fundraising partnership for the 2018-19 school year, she added.
A full list of sponsors, including longtime contributors Sunshine Pizza to new sponsors such as Hob Nob Brew House and St. Helens Ace Hardware, can be found on the band's t-shirts and are often highlighted in sponsor shout-outs on the band's Facebook page.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Joe Sheeley's business, Digital Graphiti. The Spotlight regrets the error.