Credit: Kyle Cunningham, Union Banner News Staff
Seeing or hearing the Mater Dei Catholic High School Marching Knights, means their continued success can’t come as a surprise. In fact, the only thing missing up to this point was a state championship. But that was set right on Oct. 26 when the ensemble clinched the 1A Illinois Marching Band Championship.
The Marching Knights are under the direction of Blake Korte, who is in his sixth year at the school. The group is composed of 69 students, which includes 23 seniors, 17 juniors, 16 sophomores and 13 freshmen. It is the largest ensemble since Korte took over in 2014.
During their performance at the University of Illinois Marching Band Championships, the Knights were judged on three components — music, general effect and visuals — in which they swept all three categories in 1A competition. The feat was not only tremendous in their class, but they were the only school to place first in all categories at any level.
“Placing at all at the U of I competition is not an easy task,” Korte said. “There are typically seven other bands in our class who all have the same goal as us: to put the absolute best product on the field. I think placing first is a direct result of having goal-focused students striving to be better versions of themselves each and every day.”
According to Korte, judging can be a mixed bag as each one has their own particular style in what to look for, which can drum up some uncertainty on how a team will perform in their eyes. “Each judge has their own personal opinions and biases about who they like or don’t like, which will typically play a small role in their judging, although we hope it doesn’t,” he said.
The win at state is the proverbial cherry on top to what has been a highly successful season which included a first-place victory at the Metro East Marching Classic in O’Fallon on Sept. 9, a first-place finish at the Gateway Marching Classic on Sept. 28 in Collinsville and a fifth-place finish in the class 2A field at the Tiger Ambush Classic on Sept. 21 in Edwardsville.
When asked about the program’s rich history and repeated success Korte stated its all about the student belief in the program. “It starts with having a system in place that works in addition to having students who buy into that system,” he said. “I am fortunate to work with a phenomenal full-time staff throughout the season and even bring in excellent music educators during the summer to help further the students’ skills on their specific instrument.”
The group, which relies on continual support from the band parent organization as well as the administration, not only plays a huge role in supporting school activities, but continues to be present within the community as well.
“I am most proud of how this group represents our music program, school, community and themselves,” Korte said. “The band selflessly supports our football and basketball teams, displays school spirit throughout homecoming week and pep rallies and is extremely involved in our community (parades, Buddy Walk and grade school tours).”
This particular ensemble has not only stood out as talented band members, but their character as a whole has been nothing short of remarkable. “These students display a high level of professionalism and maturity and I am so proud of the transformation they make not only as musicians, but more importantly as people,” Korte said.