It simply wouldn’t be summer in the Hoosier state without spending a day at the Indiana State Fair. And what would the Indiana State Fair be without its annual high school marching band competition?
From its humble beginnings in 1947 through 2013, over 3,000 Indiana high schools have participated at Indiana State Fair Band Day. Twenty-five marching bands competed at the 1947 inaugural event with 94 high schools represented in 1962, the largest number of entrants in the history of the contest. Though temperatures often exceed 100 degrees, the young musicians brave the heat and humidity in hopes of bringing home the coveted first place trophy. But no matter where a participating high school may place, performing at Indiana State Fair Band Day is an honor in itself to any marching band member.
Since 1950, four Madison County high schools account for 15 first place finishes and eleven runner-ups at Indiana State Fair Band Day. The first being Alexandria High School in 1950 under director Carroll Copeland. During the late 1950s, Anderson High School dominated the band contest by winning championships in 1957, 1958, and 1959. George F. Vaught was band director at Anderson High School during this time. Anderson also placed second in 1956.
The 1960s seemed to belong to Madison Heights at the State Fair band competition. Madison Heights won its first State Fair title in 1963, with director Francis E. Barker at the helm. The Pirate marching band placed second in 1962, 1964, and 1967. Five years later, Highland High School won the championship trophy under director Bruce R. Smith. The Marching Highlanders gained much attention with its unique bagpipe corps while performing in full Scottish regalia. Anderson was runner-up at the 1960 State Fair band contest.
Highland High School was back at center stage by placing first in 1970 and 1971. The Alexandria-Monroe Marching Tigers were runners-up in 1973, as was Highland in 1974. Shenandoah High School, in nearby Henry County, placed first at the Indiana State Fair band contest in 1972. Hugh A. Callison was band director at Highland in 1970 and 1971. Frank Bienas oversaw Shenandoah's victory in 1972.
Madison Heights won its second Indiana State Fair Band Day competition in 1980, adding second place finishes in 1981 and 1982. Anderson High School also faired well during the decade, winning the championship trophy in 1985 and 1986. Alexandria-Monroe was named small band champion in 1987. Band directors were Thomas Osborne (Madison Heights), Donald Hoffman (Anderson), and Dan Rice (Alexandria).
Though no county high school placed first in the 1990s, Anderson High School qualified for the Sweet Sixteen 10 consecutive times, with fourth place finishes in 1997 and 1998. Madison Heights made it to the Sweet Sixteen three times, with a sixth place finish in 1996. It would be the last Indiana State Fair appearance for the Pirate marching band. The following year, Madison Heights closed and was renamed Anderson High School.
After the 2009-2010 academic year, Highland High School was dealt the same hand as Madison Heights the previous decade. But before the doors were closed at Highland, the Marching Highlanders won State Fair titles in 2005, 2007,and 2009, adding a second place finish in 2004. Anderson High School was crowned Indiana State Fair Band Day champions in 2010. The small but mighty Frankton Marching Eagles scored a tenth place finish in 2012. That same year, Elwood High School came in sixteenth place. Douglas Fletcher was director of the Highland and Anderson High School State Fair champions.
Through 2013, Anderson High School had competed in fifty-nine consecutive Indiana State Fair marching band contests. Anderson is tied with Franklin Central with six first place finishes, the most in the history of the event. Since 1967, Highland and Madison Heights had a combined total of thirty-three Sweet Sixteen appearances. Alexandria-Monroe not only won the contest in 1950 and the small band competition in 1987, but have also made it to the top sixteen a total of seventeen times. Pendleton Heights and Lapel High School have nine and four Sweet Sixteen appearances respectively. Frankton and Elwood High School have advanced to the evening competition six times. Dating back to the first Indiana State Fair marching band competition in 1947, Madison County high schools have 120 top ten finishes and sixty-eight top five finishes at the popular summer event.
In 2014, the Anderson High School Marching Highlanders took fourth place at the contest with Frankton finishing 14th in the competition.