Time marches on, so does Cherry Hill West marching band

Ensemble returns from budget-fueled hiatus for upcoming school year

Cherry Hill West High School’s marching band practices this past Wednesday

Sonny and Cher famously took the pop confection “The Beat Goes On,” to the top of the charts more than 50 years ago, but that sentiment still rings true in 2018 for the Cherry Hill West High School marching band.

Under the guidance of director of instrumental music Jim Mark, the band re-formed for the current school year after being inactive for almost a decade. Mark has served with the school for 18 years and has spearheaded the department for all that time, so he was a natural choice to pick up right where he left off.

When former Gov. Christie took office in 2010, Mark said, there was a $12 million deficit in the budget, and, as a result, two positions in the marching band were cut along with any funding for transportation. That meant the band was totally prevented from traveling to road football games as well as competitions both statewide and nationwide.

Though the marching band itself was still active during the school year following Christie’s ascension to the office, West’s football field — still grass at the time — became worn due to use, and frequent rains turned it into a mud bath that made it almost impossible to put on a decent performance.

“There were five home football games, I think, and it rained on four of them,” Mark said. “We practiced a ton getting ready for the shows and everything and we did one show out of five possibilities. At that point, the kids, myself, even the parents were like, ‘we kind of wasted our time,’ because (the situation) was futile.”

From there, a collective decision was made to drop the marching band and maintain the pep band, where students would be limited to playing in the stands during the Lions’ home football games. However, a series of interconnected events led Mark to consider adding the marching band back to his list of responsibilities.

Cherry Hill West High School’s marching band color guard practices this past Wednesday.

“Fast forward a few years and I got my wife … to do color guard and Chris Miller doing percussion, so I had two in-district people finally on board, then added John Hunt from Carusi Middle School, so it was a good time to try to resurrect the program,” Mark noted. “Dr. Morton, our principal, found us some funds to at least get started and to work towards getting it back to where we want it.”

Prior to that hiatus, the thunderous sound of West’s best made the rounds and made its mark competitively. With Mark presiding, the marching band was heavily active for seven years in the United States Scholastic Band Association, winning two group championships and several regional titles.

For now, he’ll just settle for everyone showing up on time, hitting their marks, memorizing the routine, keeping in time, and most importantly, staying cool, calm and collected in the blazing heat which is becoming a part of the start to each school year.

“Our kids have really risen to the occasion,” he said. “They’ve really taken to it and done a good job. It’s a beginning, just getting kids accustomed to the marching concept. Getting them into competitions would be detrimental. We need to learn how to do it first before we take it to the next step. It’s a building block process, and this is step one, where we’re learning how to do what we need to do. Maybe next year we’ll take another step, do football games, a couple shows … get our feet wet.”