By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer
SHARONVILLE - After the Princeton Vikings lost a one-point thriller to Colerain last fall, Grant Holzen couldn't believe his eyes when he saw the Princeton football team cross the field and invite the marching band into the traditional post-game huddle.
"It was pretty cool," the 17-year-old junior saxophone player said. "It actually made us feel appreciated and like we were part of the team, because we really are. We're out cheering for them every game."
The moment demonstrates the special bond that exists between the school's music and athletic departments. And it's an extension of the community's ongoing love affair with the Pride of Princeton Marching Band.
Princeton High School's marching band enjoys almost unparalleled support from its football team and music boosters. For years, the school district of 6,000 students and community of 40,000 have elevated the marching band to a status akin to that of its perennial powerhouse football team.
It's a lofty status that doesn't exist at most schools.
The Pride of Princeton is also one of the Tristate's last vestiges of a traditional show band - one of the largest show bands in the area. The vast majority of Tristate high school marching bands compete. But Princeton's band, organized in 1958, has resisted the urge to morph into a competition band.
"Our community has always wanted that type of band," said Dave Maroon, director of bands at the high school and former marching band director.
"We've never had the desire to change to a competitive marching band. We have marching band (practice) during the school day. It keeps more kids in the program."
The long-standing alliance between the music and athletic departments fosters the culture of equality. Marching Band Director Todd Leonhardt, who came to Princeton after 10 years at Fairfield, remembers the first time he met football Coach Scott Miltenberger, who is now retired.
"When I started here last year and set foot in the building for the first time, here comes this large, intimidating man," Leonhardt said. "He about crushed my hand when he shook it. He said, 'Welcome to Princeton. I love the band. The football team loves the band. Play all you want.'
"I thought, 'Somebody, smack me,' because you don't get too many coaches who will say that or take on that philosophy.''
The unusually close alliance is a decades-long tradition at Princeton.
"I've been through four football coaches," said Bob Monroe, district music coordinator. "It isn't an accident. There's just an atmosphere of mutual support. There's not the rivalry here between athletics and music that you find in many schools."
High school athletic and music departments often find themselves at odds because they're competing for the same students. Competition bands, like sports teams, usually practice for hours after school.
But at Princeton, the 170-member marching band practices during the day as part of band class. That allows students to participate in sports after school.
Band parents praise the cooperation between athletic and band departments, because teachers and coaches consciously work to make schedule adjustments for kids so they don't have to choose between the two.
The community's affection for the band starts at the top of the school district and trickles down to teachers, parents and students.
When word got out last August that the football team would travel to a game at Springfield South in air-conditioned coach buses while the band would ride in yellow buses for the 140-mile round trip, Superintendent Don Darby put the brakes on the plan.
As the football team goes, Darby said, so goes the band.
All the students traveled by coach.
Another example of community support came two years ago when the Bengals refused to allow marching bands on their field at halftime of high school football playoff games involving Princeton.
The outcry from Princeton school board members, administrators, band parents - and football parents - was deafening. They called the Bengals, the Hamilton County Commissioners and radio talk show hosts. They e-mailed their outrage, as well.
The result was a directive from the Hamilton County Commissioners: Let the bands play on.
Almost unparalleled, Princeton band directors say, is the support of the Princeton Music Boosters, which runs the concession stand at the stadium to raise funds for scholarships and uniforms.
The group raised half of the $100,000 needed to purchase new scarlet and gray uniforms last year. They had the old uniforms made into pillows and sold them as a fund-raiser, too. Some $20,000 in scholarships was given to students for private music lessons or music camps last year.
So what makes the band so special?
Part of its appeal is its repertoire of contemporary/pop music - tunes the audience recognizes.
"They're real powerful when they come onto the field," said Cindy Mullin, whose son, Andrew, is a band member. "When they march out on the field, you can't help but feel the energy they bring to the game. People stay in the stands at halftime to watch the band."
Andrew, a 16-year-old junior who plays saxophone, is happy the band doesn't compete because it allows them to play a variety of music rather than concentrate on a few pieces for competition.
"At Princeton, it's more about fun, supporting the football team and entertaining the fans,'' he said.
Princeton's reputation is well-known in band circles.
"It's a very successful program," said David Martin, assistant director for the Bearcats Bands and retired Anderson High School band director. "They've just been really solid, quality people who cared about kids and the program."
Students prepare for the marching band season by attending a two-week summer band camp in August.
Lanese Layne, Megan Longstreet and Candace Sherman are in their second year as drum majors. The three 17-year-old seniors played instruments in the band as sophomores.
"We've been out there when it's been 90 degrees, but it's all worth it," Megan said. "Even though everybody complains about it, they still do it."
"It's for what we love," Candace added. "It pays off."
Coach Miltenberger has always been one the biggest band boosters. When he told his disappointed players to grab their band friends and bring them into the huddle, it was his way of thanking the team's biggest cheering section.
"I looked around, and the band was still cheering for us, even though we had lost the game," he said. "I wanted to thank the band in front of the players and tell them how much they meant to us the whole year.
"I always told our players that the band is just as important as the football team on Friday night. They prepare all week just like we do."
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