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News and information from Pittsburg State University, Pittsburg, Kansas.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Shrine Bowl musicians know its about more than music

Director Doug Whitten, above, works with members of the Shrine Bowl Band on the Pittsburg State University campus this week. The band members, who come from across the state of Kansas, will perform at the annual Shrine Bowl football game on Saturday, July 29.

For 15-year-old Sydni Meehan, participating in this year’s Shrine Bowl Marching Band at Pittsburg State University is more than just another band camp.

Less than two months ago, the Topeka teen was a patient at the Shriner’s Hospital in St. Louis. Meehan had developed an alignment problem with her knee as a result of breaking her foot years ago. Her uncle, a member of the Shriners, suggested she get her foot checked out at the hospital. That gave her a chance to see the services they offer from a patient’s perspective.

“I saw all the little children there, some of them with cancer or in wheelchairs, and I felt so guilty,” Meehan said. “I wished there was something I could do.”

This past spring, Meehan had asked her band instructor if he knew of any clarinet openings in this summer’s Shrine Bowl Marching Band, but none were available at the time. So it felt like more than luck when he called just as Meehan was preparing to leave the hospital to tell her a spot was open.

“I think it was a coincidence that I was at the hospital and able to get into the band, but this has been amazing,” said Meehan, who was fitted at the hospital for shoe inserts to level her knee. “I feel like I’m finally doing something.”

As the marching band for the 33rd annual Shrine Bowl practices this week on the Pitt State campus, they realize they have a big task ahead of them. Coming from high schools across the state, this year’s 232 band members have a very short amount of time to learn a field show that stretches them end zone to end zone and pushes their musical limits.

“The challenge is to operate at this fast pace,” said Director Doug Whitten, whose show includes a rock-and-roll theme with music from the movie “Shaft” and a medley from the musical “Tommy.”

“Some students have come from schools where this is way harder, and for some the learning pace is faster,” Whitten said. “The shock is, ‘Oh my gosh, I have three days to learn a show and get it out on the field.’ But the motivating factor is more than meeting some cool friends. It’s doing something great for some kids.”

The Shrine Bowl rotates among universities across the state and is typically held once every four years at PSU. Driven by a $15 million pledge to the University of Kansas Medical Center by the Kansas Masonic Cancer Research Institute, the Shrine Bowl raises thousands each year for cancer research. Gary VanCleve, assistant director of the Kansas Masonic Foundation, said the weekend’s marching band profits at PSU are around $10,000. In addition to cash, donations such as Subway sandwich parties, bowling nights, and bus transportation by USD 250 are important to the event’s success.

“We get more help from this city than any other city in the state, and the band director here is super to work with,” said VanCleve. “It is one of the best sites.”

In addition to the halftime show, the band will perform pep tunes at a banquet Friday evening at Pittsburg High School. The group will also march in the Shriner’s parade at 10 a.m. Saturday.

As well as being a great way to support charity, Music Department Chairman Craig Fuchs said having the band students on campus is an excellent recruiting tool.

“We reap the benefits years later,” Fuchs said. “Last year we had college freshman show up and say, ‘Remember me? I was in the Shrine Bowl.’ Interacting with the kids is the best. Is it a ton of work? You bet, but it’s worth it.”

---Pitt State---