Band camp starts today for Ringgold High School's 165 marching students - but not on their home turf.
The Marching Tigers will be the guests of Heritage High School's band, which is generously sharing its rehearsal hall and field with its cross-county rivals.
It's the first of several adjustments the resilient Ringgold students will make this year as they and their school recover from the effects of the April 27 tornado that ripped through Ringgold, Ga.
In addition to major equipment losses, the band has had to forfeit a trip to New York City, where they were invited to march in the Veterans Day Parade marking the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. The band has more pressing needs for that money now.
But band director Robin Christian is quick to acknowledge that their spirits have been buoyed by an unprecedented outpouring of concern and assistance from the community.
His voice becomes husky with emotion as he describes a recent Run for Ringgold fundraiser in which 850 people turned out to support the band and athletics programs.
"One of the people to walk in the race was an elderly lady with one leg. How incredible is that? Someone with that kind of disability saying, 'I'm going to do my part,' " he said.
"I think I speak for the band when I say we are all so grateful for the contributions of other local band programs and for Heritage High band's providing our facilities," said RHS band captain Lindsey Chernicky.
The senior flute player said that when band members arrived at Heritage, they found each instrument section had made signs welcoming their Ringgold counterparts and signed them with personal notes. The signs were hung in the instrument storage area to show the visiting musicians which spaces were allotted to them.
"It was so sweet," said Chernicky. "All this is so humbling because our schools are such rivals. But in this time, it's unbelievable how everyone has come together."
Thursday night's concert starring Josh Turner is another example of community support.
Contacted by WUSY radio, Turner agreed to sing for a benefit that will divide its proceeds between the band and athletics programs.
Turner said he knows the importance of a high school arts program - it's something he said his South Carolina high school was missing.
"One year we would have a chorus, then it would go away. One year we'd have band, then it would go away. We just didn't have funds for those kinds of programs," said the singer in a telephone interview.
"When it comes to helping out a school like Ringgold, especially from a catastrophe like this, it does me good to know I can lend my talent to a great cause," said the country music star.
Christian said the high-school band room was not damaged by the storm, but the middle-school band room had a good deal of water damage
"The middle-school roof was ripped off. A few days after the storm, we had about 12 hours of rain, and that's where we got most of the water damage," he explained.
However, equipment for the high-school band that had taken years of fundraising by Band Boosters to acquire was gone in minutes.
The high-school band owned three trailers that were used to transport the instruments and equipment to football games and contests: one 22-foot trailer, one that was 24 feet and a 48-foot semi-trailer just purchased last year. The use of a truck to pull them was an in-kind service of a friend of the band.
"The trailers were parked on the school campus. The 48-foot trailer was thrown about 100 yards by winds," said the director. "The other two were thrown further than that; one was a few yards short of being in the stadium."
Inside those trailers were all the supplies that band parents used to build show props as well as three drum-major podiums (each valued at $1,000.) Everything was destroyed.
Christian said the storm leveled a 40- by 60-foot pavilion at the practice area built by the Band Boosters. The "Home of the Ringgold Marching Tiger Band" sign, which towered over the concession stand at home games, is also MIA.
Christian said the trailers were insured only for liability, and none of the equipment inside was insured. The Band Boosters recently learned the losses do not qualify for FEMA funds.
Christian said that within hours of the tornado, Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe and Heritage high schools' band directors, Rich Stichler and Blair Callaway, respectively, called to ask how they could help.
"These are good friends who stepped up and have helped us out tremendously," said Christian.
Stichler agreed to store Ringgold Middle School's band equipment at LFO until the school's renovation is completed. Callaway offered his band room and football field to the high school.
"Blair scheduled his camp differently so we could share their facilities," Christian said.
An immediate concern of Booster Club parents following the storm was the condition of the high school's new uniforms. Boosters are stilling paying off the final $25,000 of the $100,000 order for those 300 new band uniforms purchased four years ago.
Christian credits quick action by Belfor Property Restoration for protecting that investment.
"The Belfor crew got them out, cleaned them at no expense to us and stored them until they were delivered to Heritage. The uniforms were only damp after the storm, but had Belfor not been so quick to act, they would have mildewed and been ruined."
With the first game Aug. 26, Christian said the band's first priority is obtaining an equipment trailer.
"We have to have trailers. Since our home games are at Finley Stadium this season, every game will be a travel game. We've got to immediately work on getting a trailer big enough to haul all instruments," said the director.
He explained that students are not allowed to carry any instruments with them onto the buses for safety reasons.
"Everything we have goes on those trailers," the director said. "That's one reason we opted to buy a full-size semi because we could put everything in one trailer."
Another necessity before the first game is drum-major podiums. The band has to see its field conductors.
The task of fundraising to replace these losses falls to the Band Boosters.
Ringgold Band Booster president Lisa Murdoch, who has two sons in the high-school band, said the parents group will fund a budget this year of $175,000, which supports the middle- and high-school band programs.
Roughly half of that budget will be raised through the $500 band fee paid by each musician and $400 per color-guard member. The remainder is raised through fundraisers.
Ringgold boosters are now faced with the challenge of meeting this budget while also replacing trailers valued at a minimum of $20,000.
Murdoch said the Boosters previously could count on raising from $12,000 to $15,000 through football concession sales. Not this year.
In June, it was announced that Finley Stadium will host Ringgold's High School's home football games. The generous agreement stated that Ringgold will not have to pay rent. However, the Stadium Corp. will get concession revenues.
Despite that setback, Murdoch is upbeat.
"We may have to do a few extra fundraisers to make ends meet, but the most important thing is to help keep our kids in band and support their music endeavors as well as their dreams," she said.
As word of the tornado reached music colleagues of Christian's, an outpouring of support has followed.
"Quite a few bands from as close as Northwest Whitfield to as far as California, whose directors I've known for years, asked for donations at their spring concerts and sent that to us," said Christian.
The MidSouth Concert Band, a volunteer community symphonic band, turned its spring concert into a fundraiser for Ringgold's band, raising more than $2,000.
"We have been blessed with a donation from the Franklin Pierce Educational Foundation, a portion of the proceeds from Run for Ringgold and the upcoming Josh Turner concert and Charles B. Davis rodeo, said Murdoch.
She said the band is in charge of the football program, from which they will make money, and they will also sell spirit gear at the games. Businesses interested in advertising can email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Murdoch calls all these who have contributed to the band's recovery "their ray of sunshine amid our darkest storm."
"To all those near and far who have helped our band program through prayers, donating services and money, participating in fundraisers or who come to hear our bands perform, thank you."