Some teenagers turn their tassels at graduation and never look back at high school. Not four recent Lakewood High School graduates.
Five of the six seniors who were in marching band at Lakewood went back to their now alma mater on Old Manning …
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Five of the six seniors who were in marching band at Lakewood went back to their now alma mater on Old Manning Road during band camp last week to help coach the younger, incoming students and to be recognized for something they all have in common - college scholarships (and a role model).
"This is my second day coming back," said Anthony Davis Jr., last year's drum major. "It takes hard work, so I got to push the two new drum majors so they can look picture perfect when they perform."
Davis Jr. is heading to South Carolina State University to play in the school's showtime band, which he described as more modern and performance-based than a chorus band.
He said he started playing drums after watching the movie "Drumline." He joined the Gators' marching band his freshman year and tried out for drum major his senior year.
"It was hard 'cause a lot of people was doubting me ... but I pushed through, and I made it," Davis Jr. said.
There was one person who believed in him the whole time and told him to try out - Ray Francis, Lakewood's band director.
"Man, I like Mr. Francis. He's a cool guy. Me and him talk about stuff outside of band. He's a motivator. He pushes you to do better. I look up to him more than just a band director," he said. "I would hear negativity, and he said, 'Just ignore them. You're going to make it if you put your mind to it.'"
Noah Waters is going to Benedict College in the fall with a full ride and also credits Francis for his success in and out of the classroom and band room.
"He's more than a band director," Waters said of his teacher. "He's a good friend. He helps you with more than just band stuff."
Waters plays the flute and piccolo. He even held a signing event when he decided on Benedict, just like athletes do when they pick colleges.
He said he is majoring in music education because he wants to be a high school band director.
The atmosphere in the band room during band camp was relaxed and open. Students practiced and joked around, and Francis connected with them not in an annoying teacher way. In a way that got the students to laugh with him.
"It's one big family doing everything together, having fun, just being us," said Gerydexter Miller Jr., another graduate. He plays the snare drum and is going to Central Carolina Technical College for two years on free tuition to major in engineering.
Graduates like coming back to the school they just got out of, and young students put in extra time before the school year even begins. Seventh- and eighth-graders who will play in the band this year spent last week at Lakewood for band camp. Ninth-graders set foot on the campus a month before their first high school class started.
A rising sophomore, Angel Jenkins, played his trumpet during practice. His mother, Natasha Olden, stood behind him.
Olden, a bus driver for Lakewood and Cherryvale Elementary and Furman Middle schools and a summer feeding program volunteer, was on the rifle team at what was then Hillcrest High School. She and her son have something in common - their band director.
"It's in his heart," she said of Francis.
Francis said his goal is to get every student to college, and he knows something about the effect of a role model on high schoolers.
"I went to Summerville High School, and Gus Moody was the band director. And he changed my life. I wouldn't have went to college if it wasn't for Mr. Moody," the 40-year band director veteran said as he sat in the band room, instruments and sheet music covering almost every surface.
He said his job is more than directing a marching band. It's counseling and mentoring and second-parenting.
"I feel like I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing. The growth that they have had is just tremendous," Francis said. "After an away game, I'll usually take them to McDonald's or somewhere. Some of the kids, at first, in seventh or eighth or ninth grade, have never ordered for themselves, and by the time they graduate they're ready to move off and go to college, and they're ready to be a contributing member of society."
Hannah Partin played percussion, mainly xylophone, at Lakewood and is about to start S.C. State for a biology degree. She wants to be a nurse, but she is also playing in the concert band in college. She said she liked marching band at Lakewood because of of the friends she made.
"I'll miss the practices where you play that one song that nobody can get right," she said, "and then all of a sudden everybody just gets it. Just that feeling that everybody gets looking around knowing we finally did it."
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