AMERICAN FORK — Marching-band members schlepped bulky equipment on and off the football field for their halftime shows when John Miller became band director for American Fork High School 19 years ago.
The tedious work gave Miller an idea: recruit parents to help haul bulky drum sets and marimbas to make the band's movement on and off the field smoother.
Now American Fork's "band dads" are an official part of the organization.
The band supplement isn't exclusive to American Fork any more. Miller's formula has caught on, and now he and others travel to other schools and other states sharing tips on how to start an equally effective support organization, something badly needed given the ever-increasing competition between bands and a trendy focus on adding complicated props to splashy field shows.
The band dads are more than just helpful. Their contribution weighs in the points bands earn or lose during competitions.
American Fork's band dads were upset with themselves for a slow set-up during the recent homecoming half-time show. It took them about three minutes and 30 seconds to get props and equipment on the field. That exceeded their target time by 15 seconds.
Take too long, and field show judges start docking points — one point for every 15-second overage in many of the competitions where the top three bands often have scores as close as a tenth of a point of each other.
Points are given and taken away for musical performance, field execution, originality of show — for straight lines, energy and showmanship, even for how a drum major holds his hands.
An entire show must fit into a 15-minute time slot, including the time it takes to march on and off the field.
Therefore, the "pit crews" for high school marching bands have to be ready to perform a carefully choreographed show of their own.
"I think we're getting it down now. I think we can shave another 15 seconds," said Dan Adams, who has been a band dad for all of the support organization's 19 years. He signed on when his first child joined American Fork's band and has stayed because of a love for the program.
"We have more stuff this year than we've ever had (for our Pandora's Box show)," said Miller. Elaborate props now join larger percussion instruments in the inventory the band dads have to move around. "It's like a small city out there. It takes two four-wheelers plus a tractor to haul it all out."
Adams agrees there's a lot in the way of props. He helped build most of them, and this year it takes 25 adult men to get it all on the field and then off again in a timely fashion.
In addition, band dads bring on the pit orchestra instruments and their amplifiers and sound boards. From the ends of the field and from behind the stands, they haul out the drum major podiums and assorted field markers.
"For this year's show, we have a Pandora's Box and 50 feet of screen for the color guard and the pit instruments and podiums that all have to be put up simultaneously," Adams said.
Jim Wiley is approaching his second decade as a band dad for the Springville Marching Band. Like Adams, he's stayed on long past when he had a child marching in the band.
He reports at 6:30 a.m. for band practices three days a week and Wednesdays from 3-5 p.m. He attends all of the football games and parades and all of the competitions during September and October. Then goes on a weeklong sojourn with the band to California in November for a national band competition.
He supervises a group of students and several parents who are as hooked on helping out as he is.
"I went a couple of times and I was addicted," he said. "I just really enjoy working with the kids and with Doc (band director Bryan Tobler)."
He, like Adams, volunteers his time, his muscle and — before he retired — his vacation days to assisting the band. Sometimes it's freezing, but he says generally he's working hard enough to stay warm.
It's a kind of parent ritual that not only helps the band but bonds the volunteers into tight, lasting friendships.
"We just have it in our blood," Adams said. Adams' wife, Karen, is a band mom and treasurer for the band parents organization.
"We believe in music and in youth and the positive effect band has on kids. We make a difference."
Adams said although his four children graduated from high school long ago, he has every intention of serving as a band dad year-round as long as his health permits. When the band competition season ends, he starts into the WinterGuard season for the color guard corps.
"We couldn't do it without them," Miller said.
Band performance dates (Most shows start at 7 p.m.)
Davis Cup: Oct. 12 at Davis High School
Timpanogos: Oct. 16 at Mountain View High School in Orem
Rocky Mountain invitational: Oct. 19 at LaVell Edwards Stadium at Brigham Young University.
Bands of America regionals: Oct. 23 at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas
Band bash: Nov. 3 at American Fork High School