There was an obvious absence when Missoula’s high school basketball teams took the court in Great Falls for State AA championship games last weekend.
While parents and fans cheered the Hellgate High School boys and the Sentinel High School girls to victory – and their noise lifted the rafters – there was no music to accompany the mayhem.
Unlike all the other districts in the state, Missoula County Public Schools does not allow high school pep bands to travel to state championship tournaments.
Although the lack of pep bands and the fact that neither Hellgate nor Sentinel heard their school song as they were crowned champions was keenly felt by many students, parents and alumni, it’s been more than 12 years since Missoula sent pep bands to state tournaments, said Mark Thane, a MCPS regional director.
“We clearly need to establish a protocol so that our pep bands can attend these events,” Thane said Monday, in response to complaints several Missoula parents shared with the Missoulian. “There is nothing we can do to go back and deal with the situation, as it happened last weekend, but Dr. Apostle and I have discussed this and protocols will be developed so bands may attend these events.”
School administrators heard at least one request to have Hellgate’s band at the tournament, but the request came on Friday, which was too late in the tournament cycle to organize the band and a bus trip to Great Falls, Thane said.
Although the exact details about when and why MCPS stopped sending pep bands to championship tournaments have been lost to time, the policy came after a Billings state basketball tournament in the mid-1980s, said John Combs, MCPS fine arts director.
That year, the boys’ basketball teams from all three of Missoula’s urban high schools played in the tourney, and each school sent along its cheerleaders, drill teams and pep bands.
“It cost a bucket load and, as I remember, when Dennis Kraft, who was the superintendent at that time, learned about what it cost, he was steamed,” Combs said.
After that, new rules were made and pep bands were told they couldn’t travel to the tournaments unless the games were within 200 miles of Missoula.
Sometime in the late 1990s, the rule changed again and bands didn’t go at all because of the cost, Combs said. Since then, the topic has never surfaced – until this weekend.
“I don’t have the budget for it and the decision has never been up to me,” Combs said. “Going on the road for tournaments is an athletic event, so it’s never been up to me or involved me.
“It’s the district’s decision.”
To that end, MCPS hopes its school songs will be heard far from home next year, when basketball championship titles will be defended and fought for.
“We are going to pull together to identify a funding stream so we could send bands to these tournaments,” Thane said. “It is definitely something we need to be more proactive about.”