COLUMBIA, SC — Not one, not two, not three but FOUR top 10 Division II HBCU squads showed up to Charlie W. Johnson Stadium on Oct. 13 looking to make an impression.
The top-ranked Benedict College football squad came in prepared to take on no. 5 Fort Valley State. That was a given. But the Fort Valley State Blue Marching Machine — ranked fourth in initial the ESPN Band of The Year standings — showing up to take on the Benedict College Band of Distinction was a special treat for the fans who showed up for the Thursday night game.
FVSU made the four-and-a-half hour drive — one-way — from western Georgia to the capital of South Carolina. That can be a dicey proposition on a Saturday, much less a weeknight. Director of Bands Johnathan Thompson said he felt it was only right to make the trip, despite its length.
“We come to support our team — first and foremost — our university. We love coming to it,” Johnson said when asked about the trip. “They always come to us. So we want to make sure that you represent as well. Everybody may not appreciate that. However, we found it to be important.”
H. Wade Johnson, the BCBOD’s well-respected leader wasn’t about to back down from the competition.
“We welcome any and everyone to come to the Tiger Den,” he told HBCU Gameday before the contest. “Yes. Fort Valley. You’re in trouble.”
The game on the field was a wash: Benedict College dominated Fort Valley State 41-6 on its way to a 7-0 start. But the BCBOD and Blue Marching Machine battled back-and-forth in the stands, at halftime and back in the stands until the clock sounded and it was time for Fort Valley State to get back on the bus and head home.
Matching up against Benedict is a tough task for any SIAC band, given its recent history of excellence.
“Under the direction of the illustrious H. Wade Johnson the Benedict band has always been Top 5,” the ESPN Band of The Year committee wrote. “They have been no. 1 more than any band in Division II in our annual HBCU band rankings. Expect them to move up the charts on next month.”
“It’s just a blessing to be in the top ten. I think the last time I saw it, we were like number nine. But guess what? The show must go on,” he said. “And I’ll tell you something else. Check the ranked, check the ratings or rankings, as they put it. And another week or so I’m sure we will be moving up, up, up.”
“It’s a long road, but it’s a short road for the BCBOD — and I’ll tell you why. Because we are known for our musicality and crystal clear sound.”
Fort Valley State hasn’t historically been as consistent in the rankings as its SIAC brethren.
“Fort Valley seems to rank very high or very low in our annual band rankings,” the committee wrote. “Is this the year they become regular members of the Top 10, or did they simply have a good September? Where will they rank in October? It’s a very short drive if they make it to Atlanta.”
While Thompson said he’s not too focused on the rankings at this point, he did admit it would be nice to compete for the Division II HBCU national championship in his band’s home state.
“Everything is scrutinized, you know what I mean?” Thompson said. “So you want to make sure that your band is polished every week. You’re preparing them to be better every week. So definitely that’s there because you want to be in Atlanta. Especially since this is happening in Atlanta.”
The 2023 ESPN Band of The Year competition will take place on Dec. 15 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta at 6 PM. Check back with HBCU Gameday for the top 10 in Division I and Division II on Oct. 23.
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