Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Abbeville, South Carolina: Remembering When The Grenadiers Were Great!

Abbeville High School - side entrance.
One thing is certain about Abbeville, South Carolina - like it or not - this small southwestern Carolina town continues to evolve and change... and not always for the better. Take, for instance, Abbeville High School. It has a whole new look with that wonderful red and gray roofline. After continually replacing its flat roof for years - at a tremendous "out of pocket" expense - someone thought to themselves: "Gee a sloped roof might actually shed water - before it had a chance to leak." Of course, this isn't "Rocket Science," but Abbeville's Intellectual Elite can be like that, quite frequently. They aren't usually elected because of their obvious intelligence, but rather, despite all public knowledge to the contrary!

Like most smaller American towns, Abbeville has been blessed with several well-connected families and the elections are largely decided by a mixture of: personal popularity, interconnected familial relationships, and [precisely] who is openly rooting for you. Although it doesn't hurt to own at least one nicely tailored suit, most of Abbeville's ruling elite have that already well-known base covered. After all, they're usually quite well to do in the area of their own personal finances.

Now, don't go getting the wrong situational impression! Abbeville isn't a town full of: "Red Necks," "Southern Hicks," or [even] "Country Bumpkins." They're just a little closer bred, than most larger southern cities within our particular local environs.... Meanwhile, however, these local "Political Thoroughbreds" run for office - even faster than those darn race horses down in Darlington! Well anyway, to make a long story short, they [eventually] wizened up about the whole "Flat Roof Issue" - so we must give them some credit!

A local glowing with Grenadier Pride.
However, we can lament certain indisputable and historical facts concerning our nationally ranked and internationally famous Abbeville Grenadiers Marching Band. After winning eight consecutive State Marching Band Championships in: the "AA, " "AAA," and "Overall Best Band Categories," our local band director, Mr. Leyland Scott, and his bagpipe/colorguard director, Mrs. Virginia Ferguson - were considered Southern American Legends - in the national marching band community. In a period, of a little over a dozen years, their remarkable leadership and visionary direction brought home hundreds of hotly contested trophies! Meanwhile, the Abbeville Grenadier Juggernaut was considered [by many] to be absolutely unshakeable.

Two brothers preparing for the big day.
Abbeville's local pride in their "Black Hatted and White Plumed Grenadiers" was so great, that a "AA High School" - with around four hundred total students - boasted nearly one-fourth of its student body in its own small town band; and Wright Middle School bolstered these numbers still higher... the Abbeville Band Boosters Club held a larger single membership, than any other local civic organization... and a fleet of four personally owned Greyhound Buses, assisted this [constantly competing] band, in traveling all over the country. From: Washington, D.C. to St. Petersburg, Florida to New Orleans, Louisiana - the Abbeville Grenadiers [frequently] won over the hearts of America... and [even] Queen Elizabeth II of England began to take a highly interested personal notice!

Queen Elizabeth II - a Grenadier Fan.
In those days, The Southeastern Tournament Of Bands was held in the little old town of Abbeville, South Carolina. Out of both: respectful deference to the extremely high caliber our our local band directors, and the amazing organizational abilities of the Abbeville Band Booster Club - which could seemingly perform the impossible, with such limited local resources. The Stadium was far too small for any physical comfort - during such monstrous and taxing events... The Band Room could hardly accomodate one "AAA band" at a time... The Entire High School Property was far too small - to honestly accomodate such numerous vehicles and the crowds of musicians... and the costs of these yearly events were amazingly prohibitive - to such a small and closeted community! And yet, they pulled it off - like clockwork - year after year, after year....

And then, Abbeville's Intelligentsia struck upon another one of their numerous highly constructive ideas. Why not combine all of the county's numerous smaller High Schools into "One Big County-wide High School?" Just think of all the monetary savings that might inevitably result for our small and local community? Of course, such an idea must be tested first - to see if these various community factions can all get happily along... and what better opportunity for Abbeville, than to experiment first with their Nationally Ranked Marching Band? After all, one sound success - in that particular undertaking - would [most certainly] get the entire county motivated behind doing it.

I can assure you that, like most of the simple-minded and [seemingly] well-intentioned politicians of that era, they never intended to destroy one of Abbeville's single greatest revenue generating assets; nor its symbol of traditional and cultural pride! Those misguided idiots honestly believed in what they were invariably doing. Like the bunch of fools running our nation into the ground now, they never [even] thoughtfully considered the precariously balanced and highly relevant factors that they were so foolishly tampering with.... To their way of thinking: four band directors must be better than two, more than 100 additional band members could only make the band stronger, and a county-wide group of band boosters could only raise even more money to equip it and compete!

In the end, the four highly-strung band directors turned out to be, at least, one too many... the 100 additional band members swiftly dwindled to fewer, than before its county-wide adoption... and the Abbeville Band Boosters became increasingly: frustrated, contentious, and disorganized - over a geometrically growing number of local band and/or school related issues. For one thing, the idea of only attending your own High School Football Games - once every three weeks - was highly detrimental to the band's ongoing morale... for another, the logistics of busing all of those widely scattered band members cut largely into their practice times... not to mention the poorly maintained smaller school equipment always constantly breaking down! It turned out to be one very big political disaster, and our marching band has never factually recovered to this day....

This is not to say that the current Abbeville Marching Band isn't a quaint and wonderful little group of highly energetic local youths - who play their hearts out at our Local Football Games. But for a town, which once entertained and performed for Queen Elizabeth II [herself] and her fully decorated military Blackwatch Guards - in one of her infrequent North American visits - what can be [honestly] said? For a time, Abbeville was world famous - as The Greatest Grenadier Band in all of North America.... Now, we're known for having brick streets - with a few kids in black pants - to occasionally march upon them!

About our contributor:
Francis R. Barbour
Francis R. Barbour is an: author, freelance writer, and internet blogger - who attended Lander University from 1983 until 1987. As a long time resident of Abbeville, he has been: a past member of The Abbeville Jaycees [in good standing], a ten year member of The South Carolina Army National Guard [honorably discharged], and an outspoken advocate for openness, honesty, and disclosure in our local and national government. He currently maintains a number of political and religious blogs and writes articles for Helium.com.

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