By MAGGIE MENDERSKI
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
EWING, Mo. -- Inside the Highland High School gymnasium, 100 students glided across the high school floor in uniform.
Just as the marching band students played their instruments, their feet played the floor. From outside, "The Safety Dance" boomed in unison. Minutes before, students had funneled into the school carrying baggage, uniforms, instruments and enough food to feed the whole fleet of musicians.
But last-minute packing for the upcoming trip to the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville Fla., was halted for an hour of rehearsing. On New Years Eve, Highland High School Band Director Ryan Christian and his team of musicians will perform more than 1,000 miles away for a crowd of thousands.
"We use these trips a lot to get kids really involved," Christian said. "I like to travel and take kids to new places and show them new things."
In the past, he's taken his students to perform at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tenn., the Thanksgiving Day Parade in Chicago, the Independence Day Parade in Washington D.C., and the Heritage and Freedom Fest in O'Fallon, Mo. For Christian's students, the trips are a perk, but not the main attraction to staying active in band. While the bi-annual excursions motivate members, three juniors -- Micayla Murphy, Morgan Bringer and Ryan Waterman -- agree that their director's spirit keeps them passionate and motivated to succeed.
"He makes band so much fun. With him, you can't go into his classroom without smiling," Waterman said.
Nine years ago, Christian came to Highland High School with the goal of turning the band into the popular extracurricular activity. Murphy said he understands how to relate to students as well as music. That's evident by the growing participation -- from 12 band members to 100.
This year, Highland High School placed first in its division and third in its class at the Octoberfest parade and field show in Quincy. Christian pushes his students for success, and they eagerly give it their all.
"By the end of the parade, my back is sore, my shoulders are sore and my feet hurt," Bringer said. "There's so many things that you have to do simultaneously, and most people think you just walk. It's definitely not just walking."
For the band members, it's just as intense as an athletic sport. Waterman, who also plays baseball, said they run and do push ups at band camp just like they do in other sports.
"Here at Highland, a lot of people wouldn't classify it as a sport, but we work just as much," Murphy said.
That level of dedication has caught the attention of the Lewis County community. Christian said the surrounding towns have embraced the band's fundraising efforts and have generously helped defray much of the cost for the trip to Jacksonville.
"I think that has a lot to do with Mr. Christian," Waterman said. "His program is really out there, and people know that he's making a difference in kids lives."
All three band mates agreed, they're grateful for the trip and the teacher who made it possible.
"We have a great group of kids, and they're dedicated, and they've given up a lot of time," Christian said. "That's what makes teaching fun, when they're all behind you like that."