BY SAM SCINTA WEEKLY REPORTER
Whether they’re playing halftime at a Panther Football game or they’re clogging up traffic around the Smiley Campus during their Summer parade season, it’s impossible to ignore the Marching Panther’s impact on the community.
The band has a tradition of excellence so impressive that one must travel several hours before finding one program that even comes close, and a look has provided a rich pedigree of excellence.
A joint band program was founded at O’Fallon High School for the 1938-39 school year, but even then it was mostly concert music, although the program did have an informal marching contingent.
The Marching Panthers were formally founded in 1966 when John Albert became the program’s first director. Just nine years later, the band was performing in Washington D.C.
Slowly but surely the program at O’Fallon continued to grow until the Marching Panthers announced themselves to a national stage in 1984, when the band went down to Miami, Florida, to participate in the Orange Bowl Parade.
Two years later, in 1986, the band again went down South, this time to Atlanta, Georgia, to march in the Peach Bowl Parade. Another two years after that, the big one came calling.
The Marching Panthers performed on National Television on ABC Network’s Star Spangled Spectacular on July 4th 1988. OTHS made its first appearance in Pasadena, California’s Tournament of Roses Parade later that year, followed the next season with the band’s second trip to the Orange Bowl.
December of 1991 would be a busy time for O’Fallon, as the Marching Panthers took place in the National Pageant of Bands in Tempe, Arizona before taking place in the Fiesta Bowl Parade in Phoenix a couple of days later. OTHS would also be named High School Band of the Year by Southern Illinois Edwardsville.
The following Thanksgiving, the Marching Panthers made their first ever trip to New York City to take place in the world famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Two seasons after that, the band returned to Phoenix for another performance in the Fiesta Bowl. Earlier that year, the band won the Veiled Prophet 4th of July Parade in St. Louis. The Marching Panthers have won or tied for first in every VP Parade since.
January of 1997 started with another performance at the Tournament of Roses, and later that year the O’Fallon Chamber of Commerce recognized the Marching Panthers as “Ambassadors for Our City”. The following year featured a trip to Philadelphia to march in Boscov’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
The Marching Panthers would be named SIUE High School Band of the Year for a second time, and took another trip to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1999 followed by another trip to Florida for the Orange Bowl in December of 2001.
O’Fallon would not return to that sort of national stage until 2008, when under the direction of Dr. Melissa Gustafson-Hinds the band returned for another performance in the Fiesta Bowl.
The Marching Panthers took place in the 2010 Thanksgiving Day Parade of Bands at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, performing at both the Magic Kingdom and Epcot.
The following November the Marching Panthers were invited to take place in the 70th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor Commemoration in Honolulu, Hawaii. O’Fallon performed at both the Waikiki Thanksgiving Day Parade and a special performance at Pearl Harbor, including playing Stars and Stripes Forever while conducted by Alan Bodenlos, a survivor of the deadly December 7, 1941 attack.
Earlier that month, the band advanced at the Bands of America Grand National Championships for the first time in program history, placing 17th in Preliminary competition before placing 23rd in Semi-Finals.
January 2015 featured a return trip to Pasadena for the Tournament of Roses, and this December the Marching Panthers will again perform at the Orange Bowl.
The 2015 Field Show season would include the band’s first ever Bands of America Regional Championship when the Marching Panthers won the Clarksville, Tennessee show.
This season featured some great moments for the band, including another title at the Veiled Prophet Parade in St. Louis, a seventh Finals appearance at the BOA St. Louis Super Regional, and a win at the Illinois Marching Band Championships.
The Marching Panthers won a pair of local shows, as well, as they took home the Grand Champion Prize at both the Edwardsville Tiger Ambush Classic and the Belleville East Invitational.
OTHS placed 22nd at the BOA Grand National Championships, advancing to Semi-Finals for the fourth time in history.
Up next is a performance at the pre-game for the Orange Bowl on December 30th.
The band has performed at Walt Disney World five times and Walt Disneyland twice, but this will be just the third trip to the Orange Bowl, and first as the feature high school band.