Hello everyone! Over the past few days, I've been working on this project to help take my mind off everything happening in the band world right now. I'd never found any kind of information about the history of UIL marching band, and so I decided to do some research and write about it using the plenty of free time I've been given this summer. The result is what's written here, which I also expanded to include Texas involvement in BOA. I figured the best place to share it would be here, where my fellow band geeks might appreciate it. I'm sure it's not perfect, and it's very possible that I missed something or said something wrong, so I'm certainly open to corrections or additions since I've only followed the activity for the past few years. Anyways, without further ado, I present: A brief-ish, probably incomplete, mostly accurate history of high school marching band in Texas!
On September 1st, 1946, music activities in Texas public schools, including band, orchestra, and choir, were incorporated into the University Interscholastic League. The UIL established “Competition-Festivals,” which were held by each of the nine music regions that had been established by the TMEA. For band, contests were created for Concert and Sightreading, Solo and Ensemble, and Marching. It’s not clear whether these were all held on the same day as one event, or over the course of the year like they are today, but it seems that most events were held in the spring, including marching. Yes, in the earliest days of Texas high school marching band, most competitions were held in the spring. However, the dates of these contests were ultimately up to the regions, meaning that the first UIL marching contest was the Region IX contest, held in Harlingen, Texas on December 14th, 1946.
These region contests looked surprisingly similar to those held today: schools were not ranked against each other; they were given a rating of I, II, III, IV, or V. There was no advancement to another round of contests, all competition started and ended at the regional level. Although many things remain unchanged, there are some differences between region contests then and now. Nowadays, first divisions are very common, with IVs and Vs being essentially unheard of at a contest, but when these contests first began, the full range of ratings was seen on the results.
Over the years regions eventually moved their marching contest to the fall semester to align with football season, but even then the contests were held closer to the end of the semester, usually in December. There was always some conversation about establishing a state contest for music events, but no state level event would be established for a while.
1976: The first Marching Bands of America Grand National Championship was held in June at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, but no Texas bands attended.
1979: The first state marching band contest was held at the University of Texas at Austin at Texas Memorial Stadium on December 3rd & 4th, 1979. Any band earning a first division at their region contest qualified for state, but, like all UIL events, participation was voluntary. A total of 47 bands attended. There were five UIL classifications at the time (AAAA, AAA, AA, A, and B ) and each took five bands to finals (Classes A and B only had five and four bands, respectively, so all bands advanced to finals). Like the modern SMBC, each conference named a champion and the conferences did not compete against each other. The first state marching champions were Round Rock (AAAA), Fredericksburg (AAA), Medina Valley (AA), Southlake Carroll (A), and Booker (B). Fun fact: Two of these schools, Round Rock and Carroll, share not just the same mascot (Dragons), but also the same fight song (On, Wisconsin!). One aspect of the contest that has changed dramatically since the beginning is scoring. The original scoring system was as follows: “Each judge will evaluate the bands on a point system of 100 points; the highest score and the lowest score will be discarded and the rating awarded will be an average of the five middle scores.” It’s worth noting that this wasn’t technically a UIL event. It was endorsed by the UIL and was recognized as the state championship, but it was operated by the UT Longhorn Band. The contest remained this way until 1984 when it became an official UIL event.
1980: The second state championship was also held in Austin at UT, but this year the competition was moved up to the last week of November. There was a large increase in participation due to the immense success of the previous year’s event. Otherwise, the contest operated the same as the previous year. Unfortunately, inclement weather forced the cancellation of finals performances in conferences AAAA, AAA and A. This has only happened twice in the history of the SMBC. Also, this year UIL renamed their five conferences A through AAAAA, compared to B, and then A through AAAA. As such, there was only one ever conference B state marching championship. Also in 1980, the first Marching Bands of America regional in Texas was held on the campus of Texas A&M University-Commerce. The champion, however, wasn’t even from Texas: Union HS from Tulsa, Oklahoma took first place. There has been at least one MBA/BOA regional held in Texas every year since.
1982: A Texas band won an MBA regional for the first time: Lake Highlands won the Houston regional on October 30th. For the first several years there were events in Texas, it was surprisingly uncommon for a Texas band to win. In addition to Union’s win, Comeaux HS (LA) won in 1981, and Pearl HS (MS) won in 1983 and 1986, all at the Houston regional.
1983: The Governor’s Cup was first awarded at the 1983 state marching contest to Georgetown HS. The Governor’s Cup was an outstanding band award given to the best band out of the entire contest. This makes it similar to the Grand National Champion title in that it could be received by a band in any classification. However, there was no overall state final round where the conferences competed directly, and bands were never ranked against bands outside their conference. Since bands were still awarded a numerical score on a 100-point scale, it’s possible that the band with the highest score regardless of class would be given the Governor’s Cup. It’s more likely, however, that it was simply the judges’ choice for outstanding performance because in some years the winner of the Governor’s cup was not the state champion of any conference. The Governor’s Cup was only awarded six times, from 1983 to 1988.
1984: With the full integration of the State Marching Band Championships into the UIL program, the UIL reworked the organization of music contests in Texas. The 22 music regions were renamed music districts, and the districts were all grouped into five larger music regions. This created a three-tiered marching contest system, allowing bands to advance from district, to region, and finally to state. This is effectively the same as today’s Region-Area-State system, though it can be confusing since the name “region” is used differently. The music districts must have been renamed back to regions at some point, and it is likely that the regions from 1984 became the areas that are seen today. Regardless, this three level system was created mainly to reduce the size of the SMBC, which had grown to 118 bands in 1983.
1985: Westfield HS made history as both the first Texas band to make Grand National finals and the first to win a national class championship. In prelims, they won the Open Class national championship, and in finals they earned second place with a score of 88.40, and also won the percussion caption. This was only the beginning of Westfield’s time as a powerhouse both in UIL and BOA (which had become Bands of America the previous year in 1984).
1991: State and area marching contests were held every other year starting in 1991. The rationale that travel and transportation is expensive is familiar to most Texas band fans, but several other reasons were cited including an increase in the number of bands allowed to participate at both State and Area contests. Prior to 1991, regions could only certify two bands to the area contest, which reportedly reduced the significance of a Division I rating. Area contests expanded from eight bands to around 30, and state contests grew from 14 to about 40. State finals would also no longer be limited to 5 bands.
1993: Spring HS won Grand Nationals, becoming the first Texas band to do so. Winning with a score of 96.55, Spring won the Music Performance and General Effect captions. They had also been named the class AAA champions earlier during prelims.
1994: The Alamodome first hosted a marching contest in 1994. The BOA San Antonio Regional was the first competition held in the brand new stadium, which had just opened earlier that year. Given the dates that other domed stadiums in Texas were built, it’s likely that this was the first indoor marching contest in Texas, unless the Astrodome had held one for some reason. With the exception of 1996 and 1997, BOA has hosted an event in San Antonio every year since 1994, each time in the Alamodome.
1998: In 1994, the Duncanville Marching Invitational introduced a new judging system, which had five judges - three for music and two for marching - each rank bands, and each bands rankings would be combined and used to determine their placement. No score would be given. In 1998, the UIL began using this system for Area and State contests. This sometimes controversial judging system would remain in place at the state contest until 2020.
2002: The state championship this year was held on the campus of Baylor University in Waco, and marked the second of the two times that any portion of the SMBC was cancelled. Powerful storms forced the cancellation of AAAAA state finals, so final placements were based on prelims, but there's someone else on these forums who can tell that story better than I can (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DckalhBnfaM).
2003: The Alamodome saw plenty of marching action in 2003. After the events of the 2002 competition, UIL moved the state championship to the Alamodome so that weather wouldn’t be a concern, and the contest has remained there ever since. That same year, BOA promoted the San Antonio Regional to a Super Regional, creating the first multi-day BOA event other than Grand Nationals. This was the first instance of the San Antonio Super Regional as it’s known today; Westfield took the GE caption and won by nearly a point over LD Bell, who had actually won both Music and Visual. This Super Regional has become known nationwide as one of the best marching band competitions in the country, and the level of competition is second only to Grand Nationals. Since it’s promotion to a Super Regional, only three bands from outside the state of Texas have ever made finals in San Antonio: Owasso (2004, 2015), Blue Springs (2013), and Avon (2017). After winning San Antonio, Westfield made the trip to Grand Nationals and became the second Texas band to win a national championship. They beat second place Ronald Reagan by a narrow margin of 0.05, and won the Music and GE captions. In semifinals, class AAA was swept by Texas, with Westfield being named class champion and winning Music, Ronald Reagan earning second in class and General Effect, and LD Bell coming in third and winning Visual. While it’s fairly common for captions to be swept by even a single band, it’s very rare for a single state to claim the top three spots in a classification at Grand Nationals. This only happened once before, when three New York schools swept class AAA in 1987. While three Michigan schools did sweep placements in AA in 1999, the visual caption went to Avon.
2004: LD Bell won the St. Louis Super Regional in 2004. This is the only time a Texas band has ever won an out of state BOA Super Regional.
2007: LD Bell became the third Texas band to win a Grand National Championship. They won the Music and GE captions in both finals and semifinals, where they had been named class AAA champions.
2013: The Woodlands earned Texas’s fourth Grand National title along with Music and GE. In semifinals, they had also won class AAAA and the GE caption. This year, there were five Texas bands in finals, which was a record up until 2019. Also at Grand Nationals in 2013, Texas passed Indiana to become the state with the highest number of different schools to have ever made Grand National finals. Cedar Ridge and Round Rock were the two first time Finalists that put Texas at 17 different Finalists over Indiana’s 16 at the time. Since then, Texas has made it a total of 22 Finalists, still ahead of Indiana’s 18. Another interesting fact about the Woodlands’ win is that they are the only Texan Grand National Champion to have never won a state championship.
2015: Hebron broke the record for the highest ever BOA score during Grand National Semifinals with a 97.85. Every judge had them in first except for Visual Individual, had them in 10th. This resulted in them winning Music and GE being named class AAAA champion. Unfortunately, they only placed 3rd in Finals, but still managed to win Music. Their drop to third is largely attributed to the fact that they performed first in Finals, which was a result of the completely random draw that was in place at the time. Many hold the belief that had Hebron performed later, they would have won. This is believed to be what caused BOA to implement what is referred to as the Hebron rule, which states that for all BOA events the top half of bands that advance to finals will be given the later half of performance slots, and the bottom half will perform earlier. Previously, this system had only been in place at Regionals, and not at Super Regionals or Grand Nationals. While Hebron may be the most well known example of this situation, this has occurred multiple times at Grand Nationals. For example, in 2005, Ronald Reagan was first in Semifinals, but fell to second after performing first in Finals.
2019: While it’s commonly said that band gets better every year, 2019 truly was an incredible and historic year for Texas marching bands. In St. Louis, six out of seven Texas bands that attended made Super Regional Finals, which is the record for the most Texas bands at any out of state event other than Grand Nationals. In San Antonio, Ronald Reagan won the Super Regional with the record-breaking score of 97.30, which is the highest score ever earned at any BOA event other than Grand Nationals. At Grand Nationals, all six Texas bands that attended made finals, meaning that a record half of the Grand National Finalists were from Texas. After sweeping class AAAA in Semifinals, Vandegrift became the fifth Texas band to win Grand Nationals. Vandegrift set multiple records, becoming both the youngest school to ever win the title and the first band to win on their first trip (with the exception of the earliest few years of BOA). The Woodlands also set a record: 2019 marked their 10th Grand National finals appearance, which is now the record for the most Finals appearances by a Texas band (they were previously tied with LD Bell at 9).
2020 is already proving to be a historic year for marching band, both in Texas and nationwide. There are several changes to the UIL marching contests that are supposed to be implemented this year. First, the creation of a pilot program for a military style state marching contest means that military style bands will now have a separate track from other (“open class”) bands. This is related to the second major change, which is a change in judging at the SMBC. Conferences 5A and 6A will now use a seven judge system at the open class state contest, and each judge will have a specific subcaption to judge. The new subcaptions are: Music ensemble, woodwind, brass, percussion, visual individual, visual ensemble, and content and design. For the 1A through 4A state contests and at all area contests, the five judge system will remain in place with some small changes. The last major change is that area contests will now be held every year. This has created some controversy as the later date for the non-state year area contest conflicts with BOA San Antonio. While there may not be a conflict every year or for every band, it’s an issue that several groups have raised.
Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the pandemic. Many bands have already cancelled their competitive seasons, and in other states events have been cancelled altogether. As of this writing, neither UIL nor BOA has officially cancelled any events for the 2020 marching season, but most view it as inevitable. It’s unfortunately very possible that 2020 is the first year with no marching band in Texas since the World War era, but even if the show does go on, it will look very different. Regardless of what happens, this year will certainly make its mark on history.
For the UIL information (especially early on) I mostly used the UIL Leaguer archives. It doesn’t seem to be accessible through the UIL website, but you can find pretty much any edition by searching “UIL Leaguer [month and year]” on Google.
For BOA information, I referenced the History section of the HornRank forums--much credit is due to user boahistorybuff--for early scores and history and later just the archived recaps on the BOA website.