There was a 12-hour halftime at Memorial Stadium yesterday, and no one complained.
Marching bands from around Maryland competed in the fifth annual high school field band championships, a daylong celebration of colorful uniforms, precision choreography and enough bass drumming to rival the bombardment of Fort McHenry.
"It's the biggest day of the year for some of these bands," said Randy Smith, chief judge for the 41-school event, sponsored by the Towson Rotary Club and WBAL.
"Homecoming might come in second."
Proceeds benefit the bands, the Towson Rotary Service Fund and the WBAL Radio 11 Kids Campaign.
Last year, the event brought in $5,000 for charity, according to Bruce Grau of the Towson club.
Competitions are serious business these days for marching bands with an urge to shine beyond school football games, and, in fact, one of the bands competing yesterday doesn't even have a football team.
"We march five times a year," said Joanne Wenger, director of the Golden Eagle Marching Band from the Annapolis Area Christian School. "We don't expect to take first place, although we try our hardest. It's just fun."
First place in the Group I category (up to 45 musicians) went to Colonel Richardson High School from Federalsburg, winners for the past three years.
Top place in Group II (46 to 64 musicians) went to Liberty High School from Eldersburg, winners in 1988 and 1987.
Group III (66 to 85 musicians) was won by Wicomico High School in Salisbury. In Group IV, for the largest bands, last year's winner repeated: North Hagerstown High School had 120 musicians and a 40-member guard, largest on the field.
The day offered a curious glimpse at the spectrum of Maryland highschools and their bands: little rural schools competing with better endowed suburban schools, traditional bands playing traditional marching music competing with free-wheeling groups nearly bouncing off the stadium grass in their exuberance.
Among the risk-takers was Fallston High School from Fallston. They wowed the crowd with a "water" theme featuring music from"The Little Mermaid" and the golden oldies "Wipe Out" and "Surfin'USA," all the while wearing fluorescent green sunglasses and beach attire.
Ms. Wenger's band accompanied some of its music with a choreographed square-dance and a merry-go-round of marchers, raising and lowering cutouts of horses.
"A lot of bands get into visual interpretation," said Mr. Smith, head of the local chapter of Tournament of Bands, a group in 10 eastern states that sanctions band competitions. "It's just part of the overall look, the energy, the extent to which they create."
Eleven judges rated the bands on such qualities as marching and music uniformity, precision and showmanship. All the best bands excelled at those things, and more.
Earl Jester, director of Colonel Richardson's band, attributed success to hard work.
"Our school's only got 400 kids. Our band's only got 35 musicians. There's no room for deadwood," he said.
His prize trumpeters, Phillip Sellers, 17, and Tom Cheezum, 16, agreed.
They practice two hours a night, five nights a week, plus an hour in school every day. "You can see what happens when you work," said Phillip.
A rivalry between Old Mill High School from Millersville and the Liberty Lions spiced up the Group II competition.
Old Mill's Patriot Marching Band went on to take first place in two of four special performance areas: drum majors and band front appearance.
But Liberty won for its overall music performance and percussion -- as well as earning the top honors -- by playing two classical selections, which band director Steve Miles admitted "probably would have puzzled a football crowd."
This crowd was delighted, screaming its support every time a ramrod-straight drum major raised his arm in a stylized salute, every time a crisp line of horns faced the judges with wide-open throttles, every time the flag carriers twirled and bowed.
"It's like a ballet. You choreograph every student to the music," said Lee Stevens, director of the Atholton High School Raiders, who placed fifth.
"But the hardest thing for a band director is to have to sit in the stands and watch, no matter how good his kids are."
More about bands
If you're interested in marching bands but missed yesterday's competition, the sixth annual Baltimore County Public Schools Marching Band Showcase is being held from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. today at Towson State University's Minnegan Stadium.
Tickets are $3 each. As of Friday, only 200 remained. The showcase is being taped by Comcast Cablevision of Maryland for broadcast this week on The Education Channel in Baltimore County.