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The Collinsville Panther Pride Band is back

The sounds of trumpets and tubas pierce the air in the band room at Collinsville High School.  But this is no ordinary practice. 

The Collinsville Panther Pride Marching Band is preparing for their most memorable performance to date on July 29 at 6:30 p.m. at the historic Cricket Theatre.

That performance will celebrate the fact that the band is back after having being inactive for 10 years. The program had stopped receiving funding then because of the lack of participation from students and the fact that there was not a band director available to instruct students. 

Formed in 1938 by Ed Eller, a native of the town, the Collinsville Panther Pride Band had only been inactive once before during World War II when male band members were drafted to serve in the war. The Panther Pride reorganized shortly after the war ended.

"The band means a lot to the community. We look forward to it, especially around the holidays. So, after a while, when we stopped seeing the band and heard no one was in it, and no one was over it, it was upsetting to people in Collinsville,” said Jennifer Wilkins of Collinsville.

From bake sales to local restaurant partnerships, community members launched numerous campaigns to raise enough money to bring the band back to Collinsville. Though unsuccessful in their initial attempts, talks of relaunching the band circulated across the area. 

"My friend, who is a band director in Crossville, told me that Collinsville High and the community wanted to get the band back going, but they were experiencing some challenges," said Lunette Benefield, veteran music teacher and band director at Collinsville High School. “So, I called the county's superintendent and expressed my interest in becoming the band instructor. “ 

Benefield added, "I was retired at the time, and I was working another job, but I still had a passion for teaching, and I have an intense love for the band. I would have hated for that opportunity to go to waste and those kids not to have a chance to plug in their talents."

Benefield joined the staff as a part-time band instructor in January 2020, but there were a few missing elements. She noticed that students needed new equipment and uniforms. 

To her surprise, a plan to restore materials was already in the works when Mary Crosby, instructional supervisor and arts coordinator for Dekalb County Schools, discovered that the band would be in the process of returning in mid-2019. With Crosby's help, the band was awarded $25,000 from the Dekalb County School District. 

"When I found out the band was coming back, I realized that music and the band culture is rich in history for Collinsville. Therefore, students must have the necessary tools to create great music, enhance their skills, and give back to their community," Crosby said.

This was exciting news for the Panthers, but yet another obstacle was around the corner.

Benefield said after receiving the funds for instruments and attire, gathering a group of students interested in joining the band, and planning for upcoming events, she received a call saying that classes would transition from on-campus instruction to remote due to COVID-19. 

"We were devastated because we were unable to meet and unable to practice. Some of the kids were in quarantine at one point, and it was discouraging to all of us. We didn't know when we would meet again, and we didn't know what we were going to do," Benefield said.

But with true Panther spirit, students managed to overcome trials yet again. After several months of no practices, the same group of members reunited along with some new students, and the marching band made up for lost time learning new tunes.

The band consists of students ages 12- 18 in grades 7 to 12.  

Benefield said is excited about the new direction the band is going. She said the band has been practicing in the summer and will play at home ball games, away games and concerts during the upcoming school year.

Benefield said she wants to thank the residents in the area for their support with a gift of the performance at the Cricket Theatre.

"The Collinsville band has been gone for a long time, and people have been waiting on us, and we cannot disappoint them. Performing at the Cricket Theatre is our way of saying we are back, and we are here to stay,” Benefield said.