IVC Marching Grey Ghosts play before St. Louis Rams game

Marianne Gillespie
The IVC Marching Grey Ghosts play the national anthem for the crowd of more than 64,000 fans at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis before the St. Louis Rams and Green Bay Packers football game. The Packers won the game, 30-20. It was the first time the school has played at an NFL game.

The IVC Marching Grey Ghosts did something Oct. 21 that the program had not done before – play at an NFL game.

The band already was competing in the Bands of America Super Regional in St. Louis that weekend, something that they had not done for about a decade, Director of Bands Matt Chapman said. While the band placed fourth in competing with bands from all over the United States, they had a national experience to end the weekend.

The St. Louis Rams front office had a list of bands and picked Illinois Valley Central and Morton high schools to play at Edward Jones Dome.

Not knowing who the Rams were playing that day, Chapman later asked who the team was playing. They told him it was the Green Bay Packers, which happens to be his favorite team.

"I wouldn't have thought in a million years I'd be playing for my team," said Chapman.

Unfortunately, those back home in Chillicothe and around the United States did not get to see that portion of the game on live television, but that did not make the game less special to the Marching Grey Ghosts.

"The experience down there, it was the highlight of my career," said Chapman. "The students were very professional … I didn't hear anything negative."

Chapman chose for the Marching Grey Ghosts to play the national anthem instead of halftime. He said he not only thought it would give the students a better experience so they could enjoy most of the game, but everyone in the stadium would have to pay attention to the 115-piece band from Chillicothe.

"The Star Spangled Banner" is one the band has played many times, but that does not mean they did not practice it a lot. Chapman said they spent three hours practicing just the music alone the day before on the four-minute anthem, and an additional two hours on setting up on the field. Parents helped by spray painting an end zone.

He only asked the students to give about 10 percent more to make sure their sound was full in the stadium. Tuning actually makes a band louder, so they spent time on that, but did not need to blast the music as they had microphones. All things considered, Chapman said the sound floated above him as the students played. The special lights on the band uniforms for this year's program also were lit.

"I could hardly hear the band as I was conducting them," he said. The crowd itself was deafening and everything was loud on the field, he added.

Of course, while playing for more than 64,000 fans that day, the students also interacted with the referees, players and cheerleaders. An hour before they took to the field, they watched the teams' warm-ups.

"We felt like we were stars," said Chapman.

When the Rams players came out, streamers, pyrotechnics and fireworks exploded around the band and Chapman's podium.

"I even had the Rams mascot on my podium – and there's not room on the podium for two," he said with a laugh.

The performance is not only a highlight and lasting memory, but Chapman has high expectations for the future.

"This opens up a lot of opportunities on down the road. I really think it could open up doors for us in the future," said Chapman.

It was the first of two national appearances for the Marching Grey Ghosts this year. They will play at the Holiday Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, Calif.

The competition season ended this weekend with the state championships at Illinois State University. The Illinois marching website predicted the band and its show, "Labrinyth" would place second in its class. The band has been scoring low all year, Chapman said, but a few days before the competition Saturday he said he thought they could place first.

"We keep talking to the kids about the tortoise and the hare," Chapman said.

No matter the outcome of the state championships, the band members will have memories to last a lifetime. They also are keeping one of their staunchest supporters, affectionately known as Mama Quinn, in mind.

"We are definitely dedicating the season to Gail Quinn," said Chapman.