By Catharin Shepard • Staff writer • The evening practice last Thursday for the Hoke High School wind ensemble was like any other after-school rehearsal for the group, until band director Devon Pickett teased a special announcement by playing a video clip. The largest gathering of school boards in the United States is coming up soon, the first such conference held in the last several years.
But what did an educator’s conference on the other side of the country have to do with Hoke High? Pickett didn’t keep the students waiting long to find out.
“Out of 674 schools, Hoke County is one of the six that has been chosen to perform in San Diego, California,” he said, before the band erupted in cheers.
The Hoke High School wind ensemble will get the chance to perform at the upcoming 2022 National School Board Association Conference in San Diego.
It will be the biggest stage the band has ever performed on, with thousands of public school education officials from across the country in attendance.
“This is by far our largest platform that we have been on, especially since I’ve been here. I can’t think of a platform that Hoke County’s been on that big, ever. It’s one of the largest educational conferences that I know of in the Untied States and it’s a huge honor. It’s really, really big,” Pickett said.
The conference is handling the hotel and other expenses, and the school board itself is taking care of airplane tickets. There is a catch – only 25 of the ensemble members can go. The band director announced tryouts to select the students who will travel for the performance – and encouraged them all to be sure and keep their grades and behavior up.
Hoke High Principal Dr. Thomas Benson offered words of congratulations.
“I just want to take a minute to congratulate each of you. Mr. Pickett and his staff, we want to congratulate them on the hard work and the energy and effort that they put in every day,” he said.
The students are representing Hoke County and the school, Benson said, and thanked them for the good job they’ve done.
Public relations director Meredith Bounds added her support for the band.
“He’s not lying when he said this is a big deal. This is a huge deal. You’ve got some really prestigious bands that apply to be one of the six to go,” she said. “From big cities, big states, huge high schools. And now they get to see and know what we see and get to enjoy here in this room, on Friday nights, on the stage.”
Seniors Noelle Elder and Isaiah Joe said they were excited for the chance to go on the trip to perform at the conference. Elder, who plays clarinet, said the news of the invite came as a welcome surprise.
“It’s amazing, especially since we’ve never done something like this before,” she said.
The farthest the group has ever gone before was New York, Elder said.
Joe said he plans to practice and expand his repertoire to get ready for the tryouts. And, looking forward to the future after graduation, his experience with the band will always be a special part of his life.
“This will forever be a part of my life. I appreciate this band program more than anything else almost. It’s been a huge part of my life,” Joe said.
The group will fly out the weekend of the conference for their performance, and will get to stay in a waterfront hotel.