The era from 1972-85 might be called the Maryville High School dynasty for the “Pride of the Southland.”

Five successive drum majors from MHS also led the University of Tennessee Marching Band and on Monday returned to the high school as part of a monthly speakers series celebrating the 100th graduating class.

The dynasty began with Bill Connell, Class of 1970, but the former drum majors credited Director Ed Bilbrey for giving them the experience of truly leading the musicians. They were prepared not only academically, they said, but also to handle pressure and think on their feet.

Since Connell’s father was MHS band director from 1950-63, the child was around the school from an early age.

“The faces change, the building has changed, but the people haven’t,” he said. “You’re still very bright, very positive, very goal oriented.”

He was followed by Dale Horst, Class of 1973, who said Connell “basically made me try out” to be the drum major at UT.

While Horst was a band director for a few years, his wife was teaching kindergarten, and he told the students after a few years they would starve in music, he still went into business, keeping music as his avocation.

“You don’t have to make money making music,” he said, but the notoriety from being a UT drum major helped his business career. Horst noted his son also was a UT drum major in the early 2000s.

Third in the dynasty was Tom Delozier, Class of 1974. He first joined the band in fourth grade at Fort Craig. By seventh grade, inspired by Eric Clapton, Delozier wanted to quit the band and be a rock star, a decision his mom nixed.

Delozier was fourth seat that year, and facing a challenge for that position every other week led him to practice more and hone his skill. “I was determined that Johnny was not going to get my seat,” he told the students of his competition.

He shared anecdotes from playing with UT at two presidential inaugurations and at Carnegie Hall.

At Carnegie Hall, he had the opportunity to watch the guest artist, the jazz trumpeter Maynard Ferguson, warm up.

“He played scales for 25 minutes,” Delozier told the students. “He played more scales than I ever dreamed of as a drum major.”

Delozier later became band director at MHS for two decades. Monday, he made the point that making memorable music doesn’t require extensive musical knowledge, using the Queen song “We Will Rock You” as an example.

“The guy or the gal who wrote that, and I’m sorry I don’t know who that was, they were not geniuses, were they?” he said. “Four words and one rhythm, and how many hundreds of thousands of people know that.”

Find your passion

“I was not a good student all here at Maryville High School. I was not motivated to be a good student. ... All I wanted to do was play my trumpet,” said Mark Connell, Bill’s brother and a member of the Class of 1977. From the age of 4 or 5, all he wanted to do was be a band director.

But he told the students that not being a great student “is not the kiss of death.”

Do the school work, he told them, “but find something you are passionate about, something that you can’t stop thinking about. Go and do it with everything you’ve got.”

Mark Connell also shared one of the negative things that motivated him, a comment from a teacher his junior year who said, “You need to quit school. You’re a waste of taxpayers’ money.”

“I bet you think I went home and told my daddy. No, I didn’t,” he said. “I put my head down, like a sobbing child, I cried.”

“I”m 59 years old. That happened to me when I was 16 years old, and I can still hear it in my ear,” Connell told the teens.

“That’s when I started motivating myself,” he said.

Ed Nichols, Class of 1979, told the students that both of his parents had quit school and, “It took me years to figure out how to be successful in school.”

He credited mentor and Band Director Lee Huffaker and others for their guidance.

While some students graduated magna cum laude, “I graduated ‘Thank you, Lawdy,’” Nichols said, but he went on to become a school superintendent and now owns a consulting company.

“The teachers at this school when I was here, they taught every child as though we were the valedictorian.” he said. “It didn’t matter whether we were No. 1 in the class or No. 141 in the class, they had an expectation of excellence, and they were going to hold us to that standard.”

That hasn’t stopped. Nichols told the students about sharing one of his blog posts a few months ago with Penny Ferguson, who still teaches English at MHS. After thanking him for writing about her, Ferguson noted in a postscript that she thought he had a pronoun antecedent error, and although she was traveling in Europe and didn’t have her handbook, she gave him the citation for the rule.

“She is my teacher, and she always will be, because she wants me to be the best,” Nichols said.

Maryville High School is more than a great band and a winning football program, Mark Connell said.

“What this school is, and what I remember this school being, is a large family. And everybody in a family doesn’t always get along, but you support each other, and you have each other’s back,” he said.

Amy Beth earned her degree from West Virginia. She joined The Daily Times in 2016 on the education beat covering Alcoa, Maryville and Blount County school systems.

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