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North takes ‘Best in Show’ at Lightning Tournament of the Bands

By CHUCK BALLARO - | Oct 15, 2021

North Fort Myers High School Band Photo by Daniel Jeske

After nearly two years of sitting and practicing their instruments at home or in a classroom, the North Fort Myers High School marching band finally got to compete on the field of play for the first time since the pandemic started in March 2020.

And it was a very impressive showing on Oct. 9 at Lehigh Senior High School at the Lightning Tournament of the Bands, as North not only won its division, but also took home the Best in Show over 14 other bands throughout Southwest Florida.

In its first competition of the year, North, which was in division 4A (schools with more than 100 band members), took first in best music, best visuals, best general effect, percussion, color guard and drum major and then took home Grand Champion honors.

Sara Johnson-Scalisi, who directs the marching band, said after taking two years off and having to practice at home, it was great to see North perform as well as it did.

“Kids have really wanted to come back and be in that atmosphere. Our season starts in July and goes until November, so we have constant rehearsals, 10 hours a week, out on the pavement in the Florida sun,” Johnson-Scalisi said.

Senior Thomas Jeske, who plays the mellophone, said their seven-minute presentation at this event will give them momentum going into future competitions.

“It will make us work harder and to really make a name for ourselves after this two years of absence from competing,” said Jeske , whose band did mostly instrumental shows while not competing in sit-down performances. “We spent the whole season going through the fundamentals and it helped prepared us for this year.”

Among the goals North has is to go to states, which happens at the end of November, Johnson said.

Among the high schools that competed were Mariner, Ida Baker, Cape Coral and Fort Myers from Lee County, Barron Collier, Naples, Immokalee, Palmetto Ridge and Gulf Coast from Collier County, and Port Charlotte, Key West and Lake Wales also competed.

Lehigh, the host school, did not compete as is the custom. It did perform an exhibition routine.

“No band had competed in nearly two years, which is a pretty big deal with all the arts restrictions that were on all schools,” Johnson-Scalisi said. “With schools starting to loosen restrictions, we are able to give kids performance opportunities, which is important.”

Jeske said he missed marching on a grass field and that it was amazing to do so again.

“I was happy to, even with some COVID restrictions, to get back on the field this year to try my best,” Jeske said. “I was rusty as were many of my friends, but with guidance we were able to bounce back quickly.”

This sets North up for Saturday, Oct. 30, when the band returns to Lehigh for the Lee County band assessments, where every high school is required to bring their marching band to compete.

“They get rated for state assessments and it’s also a huge showcase of the arts and the county,” Johnson-Scalisi said, who added it would be great for spectators to come to support the bands. “Over the last two years the arts programs have taken a hit as far as recruitment for middle schools. We want to get more people interested in the arts and in the bands, whether they’re eight or 80.”