Marching Panthers again named VP Fair Champs

The OTHS Marching Panthers won first place in the Liberty Drum Challenge at the Fourth of July America’s Birthday Parade in St. Louis. This is the 24th time the band has brought home the first place trophy. The Panthers were also awarded Outstanding Music, Outstanding Marching, and Outstanding General Effect.
(O’Fallon Weekly Photo by Sam Scinta)

By Sam Scinta

ST. LOUIS – On a sweltering hot July 4th headed down Market Street, the blue and white-clad OTHS Marching Panthers endured heat indexes in the triple digits as they marched the route towards history.

O’Fallon, which has won the VP Fair Parade every year since 1995, was the first band in the parade formation on Wednesday, which started on Market Street in front of Union Station and ended in front of the St. Louis Courthouse at Kiener Plaza.

“It’s definitely a relief to get through the parade for another year and perform as well as we did,” Drum Major Austin Dichsen said after the awards ceremony. “There’s a lot of stress for us ahead of the parade, so it feels good to win.”

Winning VP has become a yearly tradition for the Marching Panthers, and it is an achievement that is stressed from student leadership all the way up to the band staff as a standard for the program.

“There’s a lot of stress on our end to keep the streak going,” Director Dr. Melissa Gustafson-Hinds told the Weekly. “We have to put in so much work as a staff each year to make sure that we are ready for VP. But the kids know what’s at stake too, and none of them want to be a part of the band that ends the streak, so they work just as hard.”

It was another Illinois sweep of the top five this year, as O’Fallon finished in first ahead of Belleville East, Collinsville, Mascoutah, and Alton in prize money position. The Marching Panthers were awarded $5,000 for first place, while the remaining pool of $5,000 was spread among the remaining top 5 groups.

Mascoutah placed in the top 5 for the first time in school history.

Taking place in the middle of the summer, VP Fair is infamous among band circles for its brutal temperatures, but the heat index made for extraordinary conditions this year.

“This was one of the hottest parades I can remember,” Dr. Gustafson-Hinds added. “2012 was really bad, and they had to add a pit-stop to the route for band members to get water, but this was pretty brutal. I think the band looked and sounded really great in spite of all of that, and it goes along with the work we put in during practice. Everyone in the block finished the parade, and that’s a great accomplishment when it’s this hot out.”

The band practices for months ahead of VP, parading around the track at the Panther Athletic Complex in the mid-day heat to work on dressing down the straightness of their parade block lines and maintaining musical quality while on the move. The work certainly seemed to pay off for the Blue and Gold, as they swept the Outstanding Music, Outstanding Marching, and Outstanding General Effect captions. 

O’Fallon’s win officially puts an end to the band’s parade season, as the Marching Panthers will now shift focus to following up the best season in program history with another run at the Bands of America Grand Nationals Finals, which OTHS missed by just two spots last November in Indianapolis. “Dr. G” is excited for what lies ahead.

“I’m really proud of the group,” Dr. Gustafson-Hinds said. “But now it’s behind us, and we need to focus on having another great year with our field show. We’ve already played through the music, so we’re ready to hit the ground running when we start band camp on the 23rd. It’s going to be a great year, and everybody needs to stay tuned to what we have in store.”