Saturday, November 26, 2011

History Is Documented...if I could just document the damn thing

I wrote about this in October 2010. This is when I told the story of a letter that my daughter wrote to a Band Director of another school, and excerpts of her letter were published in 'The Leaguer', a publication of the University Interscholastic League in association with the Music Educator. I think it is worthwhile reading that story again to understand the background. It is here.

A quick summary. My daughter, Elleana, was in a highly competitive and successful marching band in high school. She and her fellow band members were familiar with the derision displayed by other bands as they marched onward winning one competition after another. In October of 1987 the band was invited to march in a pre-UIL competition in Plano, Texas. Plano had one of the top bands in the state (in fact went on to win the coveted UIL competition that year) and they only invited the best bands to compete. The Plano competition was known for its rigorous adjudication and bands performed there to learn what they were doing wrong so they could correct the problems for the official competitions.

To complete my summary, Elleana's band won the competition. Instead of the catcalls and hateful comments they were expecting, the Plano band cheered for them and rushed forward and hugged our kids congratulating them. This was so unusual and unexpected that our band kids were left stunned with tears streaming down their cheeks. This hit Elleana so hard that I found her in her room at 2:30 the next morning crying as she wrote an appreciation letter to the Plano band. The handwritten letter was four pages long in which she derided what competitions had become and was so awed by the Plano band because it brought into focus what music competitions should be. We received word that the Plano Band Director read the letter to his band and they became tearful at the words. But the Band Director went a step further. He sent the letter to a UIL official. This official wrote an article entitled 'Examining the True Value of Competition' in October, 1987.

I was very interested in getting my hands on that article. Finally I got the yellowed newspaper publication of the article. It pretty much validated my memory of Elleana's letter. The article was pretty scholarly and addressed many diverse points and he concluded with this:

A second element would be an affirmation of the proverb stated at the beginning of this article. In short, the essence of educational competition should be a matter of putting forth one's best, respecting the best in others and growing from the experience.

Recently, one of the outstanding directors in our state shared with me a copy of a letter that was written by a student in one band to the members of the other band. The letter was written after a competition in which both organizations participated. Its contents suggest that there is a final element that must be part of this scheme. This final element would have something to do with our perception of what it means to win and how we view our fellow competitors in victory or defeat. The young lady who wrote the letter is Elleana and she is a member of the La Porte High School Marching Band. Her thoughts very eloquently address this third issue and should be an inspiration to us all. The following is a summary of her thoughts about the contest and what winning is all about.

"I just wanted to thank you so much for the wonderful welcome you gave us (at the recent band contest). Usually when we go away from home to compete, the bands from the area (of the state) think that we're snobs and just go to show off....We do not compete for these reasons.

Our feelings about competition go like this: When you win the members of the other bands scorn makes you feel like you haven't won at all. On the other hand when you've won the respect of another band, it doesn't matter if you won the contest because you've won in a different sense.

When they announced that we had won, many people from your band ran up and hugged and congratulated us. We didn't just win a contest, we won the respect of one of the finest bands in the state! We have won many contests, but this was the only one that made us feel like true champions. Thank you!......You are truly a great band and have definitely earned out respect as well."

.......This young lady from La Porte beautifully summarizes the essences of what educational competition is all about.....

Elleana was a sophomore when she wrote the letter.  

(I'm having fits trying to publish this article. I have it saved as a PDF file but it is too big to load here, and it won't link. My total sum of things computerese is scary. If I get it figured out I will publish it.)



  1. Elleana's letter continues to have a sort of pay-it-forward value. Bravo to her.

  2. I remember that - it struck such a chord with me when you first wrote it and it did again today. You, sir, have every reason to be proud - you raised a wonderful and beautiful daughter!

  3. I too remember when you posted this. It was beautiful then and still is. Congrats to both of you...stay strong & carry on

  4. How awesome - this is the kind of competition that should be taught in schools and in homes around the U.S. I remember when you posted about this, I'm so glad you found it! The pride you must have for your beautiful daughter must be overwhelming, and rightly so!

  5. Congrats on raising an intelligent and compassionate daughter, not always an easy feat in today's world. And how wonderful of her to share the love and let that band director know how much their reactions meant to her. If only more people shared her views of competition.


  6. This is just fabulous. You must be exceedingly proud of your daughter and what a fine woman she is.

  7. One of the things the turned me off to competitive sports at an early age was the scorn and ridicule associated with not winning. Even today I am impatient with glorifying the Pitcher or the Quarterback in a sport that is supposed to be a "team" effort.

    But in the example you show, where competition is underpinned with collaboration and mutual support, that truly exemplifies the "thrill of victory.

  8. This is the exception and it would be so grand if it could be the norm. Your daughter tried to bring out the good and succeeded. Now years later has the negative changed and is the value that she expressed a norm? I wish it could be so.

  9. It's remarkable the clarity and maturity which Elleana's letter makes clear she possesses. Most of the sophomores I went to school with were raging dullards (and poor sports). It's good to know that there was someone out there, back then, who even at that age knew the value of true sportsmanship and not merely civil, but friendly competition.