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Honoring Mr. Hontz in the New Band Season

Abby Loiselle, '19, Editor

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At the end of August every summer at Strath Haven, four hundred students pile onto the football field and begin to play loud enough so that the all too familiar drum beat can be heard from miles away, marking the start of another band season.

While week long band camp is typically filled with reunions, dehydration, and more horn pops than anyone can count, the 2017 season will also hold mourning for the late Jack Hontz who passed away on June 23rd. Mr. Hontz was the former director of Strath Haven’s marching band and led the school’s music program as the conductor of the symphonic band and orchestra. More importantly, Mr. Hontz changed the atmosphere of Strath Haven. Unlike so many other schools, the musical atmosphere at Strath Haven is its own type of culture. It is a culture in which everyone from athletes to artists is welcomed onto the field or stage, even if they are just learning how to play. All those who participated in band put in what they wanted to get out of the experience. Mr. Hontz never made it a choice as to what a student was to focus on. They never had to pick between sports and band or band front, but instead they were given the opportunity to widen their high school careers and explore something new, different, and exciting. Mr. Hontz built his own reputation and created such an atmosphere through his guidance and support of the thousands of students that participated in his music program. He initially joined the staff in 1983, the inaugural year of Strath Haven High School. Before this, there was neither a band at Nether Providence or Swarthmore High School. Dr. Yannacone explains that he was able to start the band by knocking on doors of students, convincing them to try it. He built the marching band from 24 musicians and 16 band front members to an ensemble of 400 students, one of the largest marching bands in the country. Eventually at Strath Haven, being in the band became the thing-to-do at the high school. How could it not be, with a third of the school participating in the band or band front? Football games highlight the hard work of everyone involved and became the community’s go-to destination on Friday nights. The excitement that flows through the stands is filled with the loud sounds of the drums beating and the instruments playing as loudly as they can. To the other schools, Strath Haven’s band is intimidating. Without Mr. Hontz, there wouldn’t be that same energy every night. From the sweltering heat of August to the freezing winds in November, Mr. Hontz never failed to keep the excitement alive.

The devastating blow of losing Mr. Hontz did not go unnoticed to the Wallingford-Swarthmore community. A service was held at the school on June 30th to honor his memory and allow all of the present and past band members and their families a chance to say goodbye. Showcasing his immense impact on the school district, over 2,000 people came to show their sympathy, causing the scheduled five hour service to last two hours longer. As well as the service this summer, the Strath Haven community will be held a Jack Hontz Memorial Weekend starting Friday the 22rd. On that Friday, there was a home game held at King Field in which the band and band front marched onto the field wearing their new pins and badges dedicated to Mr. Hontz. At halftime, alumni of the marching band were welcomed onto the field to perform a fourth song dedicated to the late band director. The show concluded with a speech by the Hontz family. On Saturday, a concert was held by the WSSD Music Department at the high school’s auditorium. The concert included performances by current students, alumni, and district and regional music faculty. At both performances, commemorative items were sold with all proceeds will going towards funding the WSSD Jack Hontz Endowment. This endowment will primarily go towards continuing the vision that Mr. Hontz had established for the WSSD music programs and will also provide grants to allow students to participate in district music and art programs as well as provide scholarships for them to continue their music education at the postsecondary level.

As the school looks back on its former director, we must also look forward to the new era of the Strath Haven music department and the fast approaching band season. While it will be difficult to replace the same loud voice and high energy that Mr. Hontz brought to every practice and game, the school’s commitment to keeping his legacy alive will never end. Mr. Patrick Murray, a former drum major and director of the middle school’s orchestra will be taking over the music program starting this fall. Mr. Murray says, “As the new marching band director there are a couple of things that I want to remember so that we can continue to honor the amazing impact of Mr. Hontz. The first is to remain committed to a culture inclusion in all music ensembles. Mr. Hontz worked incredibly hard to make sure that all students who wanted to be a part of the band, could be a part of the band. This is what set Strath Haven apart from many other high schools. The second is a commitment to excellence in performance. Mr. Hontz always gave 100% in every rehearsal, performance, or music event. We, as a band, can honor Mr. Hontz by working hard to do our best.” Recruited by Mr. Hontz in the tenth grade, Mr. Murray expresses that he would not be where he is today without him. He explained that he was hired right after college by Mr. Hontz, showing his determination to include everyone and give people the chance they all deserve. Upcoming drum major Em Lescher made the same point when saying, “Mr. Hontz definitely influenced my musical pursuits at the high school. Without his encouragement I wouldn’t be a drum major this year. Mr. Hontz also gave me a deeper appreciation for orchestral music through his direction in the string and symphony orchestras.”

Mr. Hontz embodied what it meant to be a member of Strath Haven. He went out of his way to include people, even if that meant calling to their class rooms to ensure they had band on their schedule for the following year. He will forever live on as someone who changed the lives and music at Strath Haven. As rising junior Andrew Spangler explains, “Mr. Hontz represented everything that Strath Haven stood for. He was determined, passionate, hard working, but most of all, he wanted to see success in everyone of his students.”

Thank you for the music Mr. Hontz, you will be missed.

The student newspaper of Strath Haven High School. The Panther Press is first and foremost a reflection of the opinions and interests of the student body. For this reason, we do not publish any anonymous or teacher-written submissions, and we do not discriminate against any ideology or political opinion. While we are bound by school policy (and funding), we will not render any article neutral, although individual points may be edited for obscene or inflammatory content. Finally, the articles published in the Panther Press do not necessarily reflect the views of the editors or advisors.
Honoring Mr. Hontz in the New Band Season