The OTHS Marching Panthers have long been a source of pride for its ranks and the O’Fallon community, but the feeling extends to those who have led them as well.
O’Fallon’s directors have a long-rooted and well-earned tradition of excellence, and their impact on such a visible and renowned organization is not lost on current Director of Bands Dr. Melissa Gustafson-Hinds.
“It’s always an honor to stand in front of this group and lead them,” Dr. Gustafson-Hinds told the Weekly in an interview before the 2016 season started. “This group has such great history and such proud alumni, and it’s just been incredible to work in this environment.”
Dr. Gustafson-Hinds, or Dr. G as she is known by her students, took the reigns of the Marching Panthers prior to the 2008 season after the sudden and surprising departure of Terry Martinez, who took an administrative position at Ritenour High School in St. Louis.
Since Dr. G’s arrival, the band has achieved unprecedented success on the national stage. The Marching Panthers made their first Fiesta Bowl Parade appearance since 1994 in Dr. G’s first season, and the success piled on from there.
The band won the Gold Division at the Greater St. Louis Marching Classic for the first time ever in 2010, but perhaps the biggest leap took place the following season when the Marching Panthers advanced to the Bands of America Grand National Championships Semi-Finals for the first time ever, placing the band among the top 30 groups from around the country.
Dr. Gustafson-Hinds’ impact has reached far beyond that of the Marching Panthers, however, as the Concert Band program has also reached new heights under the relentless director. O’Fallon’s Wind Ensemble has performed at IMEA All-State at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and at Carnegie Hall in New York City under her direction.
“We’ve definitely had a level of success to be proud of, but it’s taken a lot of hard work to get to this point,” Dr. G added. “We don’t get these opportunities without the hard work from the students I’ve gotten to work with and from those that came before us.”
Notable former directors include Vince Cosmano and Ed Fulton, both of whom helped put the Marching Panthers on the map.
“We were lucky to have a lot of support from the school and from the community to help us really grow into the program that we got to be,” Cosmano said. “That really drives the group to become more successful, to give the community something they can really be proud of.”
Although Fulton passed away in 1998 and Cosmano retired in 2001, both of their impacts can be felt today.
“Mr. Fulton and Mr. Cosmano set the standard for the O’Fallon Band,” Dr. G said. “They worked to give O’Fallon a band it could be proud of, and it must be our constant effort to maintain that and to build upon it.”
Cosmano believes the importance of the program is as strong today as it was when he was director.
“The impact that membership in this group can have is life-long,” Cosmano added. “Students make friendships that last forever in this group. They have experiences they will never forget. They learn discipline and work ethic. It’s so incredibly valuable to their development as musicians and as people.”