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CHS Pep Band gets prime time gig at IHSA basketball playoffs

  • The 2019-20 Chester High School Pep Band is heading to Bloomington.

    The 2019-20 Chester High School Pep Band is heading to Bloomington.
    Jim Beers photo

By Jim Beers
Contributing writer
updated: 2/5/2020 6:09 PM

Chester High School's Pep Band has been selected to perform for the 2020 state girls basketball tournament at Illinois State University in Bloomington -- CHS's first appearance there since 1986.

It comes at a cost, however. By playing the tournament, nearly 60 of Chester's student musicians will forego the 2020 IHSA Solo and Ensemble Contest, a big component of the IHSA Music Sweepstakes Competition, at which Chester won the Class C championship in 2018.

Both events are on March 7.

"It was difficult to decide," Colonel admitted. "By playing at the tournament we will probably miss the opportunity to earn the necessary points at the solo and ensemble contest to win the sweepstakes again.

"(But) We decided to mark another item off my bucket list and play at the tournament."

Colonel said the competition is fierce to be one of the eight bands chosen to play the girls basketball finals, and usually 50-60 bands apply. Each one had to provide a quality audition videotape.

Colonel and the CHS Pep Band filmed their audition tape live, over the first six games of the season, both boys and girls games. That gave them enough footage for a good tape.

Even though "live" tapes don't usually produce the best quality, Colonel thought it would give the judges the best representation of the excitement and entertainment the Yellow Jacket Pep Band offers.

The videos were judged by a panel of music directors/educators from around Illinois, and they must have liked what they saw -- Chester has been assigned to play for the biggest schools in the tournament, the Class 4A and 3A finals.

Big schools mean packed crowds at the games.

"It is highly unusual for a Class 2A band, such as Chester's, to be chosen to play at the larger schools' tournament," Colonel added. "I am surprised and honored that we were assigned to play for the bigger schools, especially the finals."

He said the honor of being one of only eight bands chose to play the basketball finals is one his students will never forget.

"I really don't see this as a negative," he said, referring to the missed solo and ensemble event. "I believe it is my job to provide as many new opportunities as possible for my students. Playing at the state tournament will be an adventure they will never forget."

Pep bands that play for the IHSA are limited to 60 people, including the director, so Colonel will take a 59-piece band to Bloomington. Chester's pep band is bigger than 59 kids, so the ones who don't go to Bloomington will instead play the Solo and Ensemble Contest and try to improve Chester's sweepstakes chances.

In 2018, Chester was crowned state champion of the Class C IHSA Music Sweepstakes. In 2019, CHS was reassigned to Class B, a division for bigger schools. Chester was one of the smaller schools in Class B and while they did well, they did not place in the top three to win a trophy.

This year, the Yellow Jackets are back in Class C where they are one of the bigger schools and were expected to be the favorite to win the division again.

CHS will compete in Class C for both the 2019-2020 season and the 2020-2021 seasons.