Local percussion band, robotics team have greatest ever finishes

Students in Franklin Community High School’s percussion band and Center Grove High School’s robotics team were part of history last month.

Franklin’s percussion band finished fourth in its class during the Winter Guard International World Championships in Dayton, Ohio, the best an Indiana school finished in its class. Center Grove’s robotics team made it to the Championship Division finals in the FIRST Championship, a world championship in Houston, also the best finish for an Indiana school.

Both competitions took place during the week of April 18.

For the robotics competition, students traveled to Houston via a 15-hour charter bus ride from Center Grove High School. For many students, one of the highlights of the trip involved not the robotics itself, but who they met, which included students from Israel, Hungary, India, Turkey, Mexico, Canada, Taiwan, Switzerland, Japan, Australia and China, said Brina Porat, operations captain.

“It was a really amazing experience,” Porat said. “Three were teams from different countries that shared the same passion we did. A lot of them gave out handouts in their team pits so that you got a piece of their culture. I remember coming home with bags and bags of handouts from other countries. I have hundreds of buttons from other countries, and it’s a really amazing keepsake.”

The robotics team ended up falling just short of the championship round, but the experience was unforgettable for seniors such as Eli Leser, the team’s executive captain.

“It was really great to go out there and see some of the best teams from all over the world. The team from Israel ended up being no. 2. It was great to see all these ideas and cultures were brought together by this one organization to play this one game. It was great to see how FIRST has inspired and improved the lives of so many people and how much everyone is learning from FIRST.”

The team represents not only the school, but the entire community, said Lisa Porat, president of the Red Alert Robotics Parent Organization.

“It was one of the most rewarding things I had done as a parent and a mentor, to be able to see these kids in that atmosphere and experience,” Lisa Porat said. “This was worth every effort we put into it and you couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity to shine for our team and the community. I was so proud of these kids, and they made such as impact on our lives.”

The percussion band, after a lackluster finish at the state finals, saved its best for last, almost reaching the podium in the WGI World Championships. The fourth place finish was the best ever placement for the percussion band, which previously only went to the world championships in 2019, when they were eliminated in the preliminary rounds.

A total of 47 teams across the United States competed in Franklin High School’s class, with Franklin the only Indiana band to crack the top five, said Jason Hammond-Wood, the band’s director.

“Every aspect of our show improved. What we got better at and what stuck out at the national level was the nuance in our show design, and our musicality shines through when we’re performing at the highest level,” Hammond-Wood said. “With 50 groups that all stick out, what makes you stick out? Maturity and musicianship.”

The percussion band’s performance, titled “Heart-Shaped Box,” revolved around community and a wide range of emotions. In the beginning of the show, the heart is in a corner, representing feeling trapped, followed by a somber segment, during which the community crumbles and everyone is holding smaller, individual pieces. At the end of the show, the students decide to work together and unveil a larger heart.

The band bought into its performance more, which helped make it more authentic, said Bella Street, a senior in her third year in percussion band.

“I felt we bought into it a lot more,” Street said. ‘We were just playing it safe at state, but we had three weeks to clean our show and got used to it. I think we finally learned what the show meant to us and put in our best effort. To me, it meant a lot. It’s my last year and … this is a great note to end on.”

Ethan Hacker, also a senior, served as the front ensemble section leader, and has been in band since sixth grade.

“Going into the final rounds, I thought of it as any other competition; I’ve done this hundreds of times before, but all my effort, my mental effort was to make sure other people were doing as well as myself,” Hacker said. “It was awesome. I was excited last year to get second at state, but to get fourth in the nation, it’s just so much better.”