BY JEFF FALK
MYERSTOWN – They say that music has the power to tame the savage beast. Well, there’s this group of rough and tumble Elco football players – a ‘band of Raiders’ if you will – who don’t need taming because they already make their own beautiful music.
A quartet of Elco footballers have discovered a unique way to combine their talents in what some might see as polar opposites – playing their physically demanding sport, while performing in the high school’s marching band. But it’s more a case of these well-rounded and highly motivated student-athletes choosing not to choose than it is them hitting all the right notes from between shoulder pads.
With the help and guidance of Raider head football coach Bob Miller and Elco band director David Fair, the four ‘players’ have learned to juggle and manage any time conflicts that may arise between the competing pursuits. In fact, the only time it gets really interesting is at halftime of Elco football games.
“Sometimes you really don’t want to do the show because you’re tired,” said senior Phil Kline, a receiver during the halves and a trumpet blower at halftime. “But I don’t want to give one up. It’s football, the show and band, and back to football. That’s how I see it.”
“With football, I’m still focused on the game,” said Nate Hostetter, a sophomore lineman/tuba player. “I don’t think about the show until halftime. When it comes, I do what I do I do in the band. And then I get back to football.”
“I don’t even know what goes on on the field at halftime,” said Miller. “What I’ll do is pull Phil aside a little and make him aware of any adjustments we’ve made. And Coach Carley (John, defensive coordinator) will get Nate if he needs to know about any adjustments.”
The scene at halftime of Elco football games is one bordering on chaos. Helmets are unstrapped and thrown on the bench. Instruments replace mouth pieces and the musical footballers assume spots among their marching band colleagues.
Then when the 10-minute field show is complete, the mad dash from the field to the locker room is on. If they are lucky, the quartet can catch the final inspirational words of Miller’s halftime address.
Following a short breather and a splash of water, it’s back to a second half of football.
“At times it seems a little hectic,” said Deery Weaver, a senior receiver, linebacker and tenor sax performer. “But it’s not too bad. You take off your helmets and gloves, and just get playing. I don’t prefer one over the other. I’d say I enjoy both.”
“It gets exhausting,” said James Bidelspach, a sophomore receiver who doubles as a snare drummer. “When I do get in (the game), for halftime I’ll be sweating. But it’s not something I do most of the time. If you have fun with it, it’s not that big of a limit.”
“The kids asked me last year and I said, ‘fine’,” said Miller, who’s in his second year of heading the Raiders. “I didn’t know we had that many kids in the band.
“You want kids out,” Miller continued. “I speak all the time about well-rounded student-athletes. If you have guys in the band, why would you make them choose? I’m not going to make them choose. It doesn’t even matter. You just don’t make an issue of it.”
From the outside looking in, football and band are more dissimilar than alike. But Kline, Hostetter, Weaver and Bidelspach don’t necessarily see it that way.
“They both involve a lot of practice,” said Kline. “They’re both very detailed. If you don’t put the time in, you’re going to mess things up. Football’s a lot more physical. And you put more time into football than the band.”
“Before ninth grade, I was considering giving one up, but I decided against it because of the bonds I have with the people in band and football,” said Bidelspach. “I see them as the same. With band, we practice everyday outside, the same as football. But in football you’ve got to be more physically fit. We have to memorize all of our music, and in football we have to memorize plays.
“Last year I didn’t play in the band because I wanted to pursue academics,” said Weaver. “There’s a lot of ‘likes’. They’re both like families. In football, everyone is like brothers. In band, everyone is like brothers and sisters.”
“No, I’ve never considered giving one up. I’ve seen people do it in the past,” said Hostetter. “I like both a lot, and the enjoyment that comes from both. They both have their difficulties, but overall I’d say football is harder.
“Everyone is very close,” added Hostetter. “We all have each other’s backs. Football is very physical, and in band you just play your instrument. They can be a pain, but they both pay off at the end.”
What Kline, Hostetter, Weaver and Bidelspach have in common – besides football, music and intelligence – is that they’re all involved in a myriad of activities, in school and out of it. Everything from track and field to hunting to water sports and snowboarding to spanish club, to baseball, as well as the school musical.
“I like to get involved with stuff,” said Kline. “I don’t like being bored.”
“It can be a lot of stuff,” said Weaver. “It can get piled up after awhile.”
“I can’t sit still,” said Hostetter. “I’m always doing something.”
“Why would you want to specialize?” said Miller. “It’s ridiculous to give up a sport you enjoy. That’s the way kids burn out.
“Both require a time commitment,” Miller concluded. “There’s a camaraderie with each one. I have a good rapport with the band director, David Fair. They (the band) want to be at games, and we like having them there. There’s a lot of similarities with the two.”