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Halftime Heroes: Chestatee band keeps eyes on performing even as personal crisis hits
Chestatee High drummer Brandon Cruz performs in the drumline during a football game at War Eagle Stadium in September.

The saying goes, “The show must go on,” and that’s certainly been the case this fall at Chestatee High School.

Just as marching band performance season was heating up, band director Daniel Merck was
suddenly pulled away, needing to care for his wife, track and cross country coach Stacey Merck.

She was struck by a truck’s mirror while running with some students on Chestatee Road Sept. 25.

“Last week was the longest week of my life,” Daniel Merck said Tuesday. “I think I aged 20 years.”

Other instructors filled in and helped “keep things rocking and rolling,” Merck said.

When he returned to work this week, students responded “like they hadn’t missed a beat.”

The band “signed a huge card and rallied for her,” said Merck’s son, junior co-drum major Noah Merck. “I didn’t realize so many people are willing to come together when something like that happens.”

“It makes you realize you have a family with the band,” senior co-drum major Brooklyn Kogod said.

The students said the ordeal also has made the 225-student band work harder on this fall’s show, a run-through of familiar of classical music tunes.

The show opens with John Williams’ Olympic Fanfare and Theme in honor of Jenny Arthur, a
2012 Chestatee graduate who came in sixth overall in weightlifting in the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Students also will be performing Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major and the 1812 Overture, which normally is performed with a cannon’s boom.

“We have an explosion going off,” Daniel Merck said, with a laugh.

“It’s a metal canister that’s made where you can pack it with gunpowder … then you light the (fuse) and it’s just a big, ol’ boom. It sounds like a cannon going off, for real.”

Chestatee’s band has certainly exploded in numbers over the years, starting with just a few
dozen in 2002, when the program began under Merck.

“It’s definitely gotten better over the years,” he said.

And a big part of that has been Friday night football, an especially electric time for students and the crowd.

“It’s the band, cheerleaders, football team — a combination of everybody — making it happen,” Merck said.

Students agree.

“That (night) and the competitions,” Kogod said. “I love getting to compete against other bands and meeting other people.”

Fridays can bring about a case of nerves, she said.

“I love getting to perform in front of the student body and getting to have fun and show off the amazing show we are doing,” Kogod said.

“To me, (Fridays) are very energizing,” Noah Merck said. “I look at Friday nights as dress rehearsal for competitions. You get to have fun, but once you hit the field and you’re under the lights, you’ve got your game face on.

“We’re very good at having fun when it’s appropriate but coming together to play the show
and do good at it.”

Another drum major, senior Jamie Mancuso, said Friday nights give the band time “to bond together as a family.”

So, how about halftime?

“It’s a time to prove ourselves to whomever is there,” Mancuso said.

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