At most high schools, the "cool kids" are the top athletes, or perhaps the student leaders. More recently, the brainiacs occasionally have gained that stature.
Not in Marshall, a smallish town (population 13,680) in southwestern Minnesota.
"If you are anyone at Marshall, you are part of marching band," said Zaakir Hassan, a senior who plays trumpet in an ensemble with an almost unheard-of level of participation: 170-plus-strong, more than 20 percent of the student body.
And the quality matches the quantity, as the band regularly has finished in the top five in its class in the Bands of America Upper Midwest regionals, usually against bands from much larger schools.
Small wonder, then that band director Wayne Ivers was selected as the 2019 Music Educator of the Year by the Minnesota Music Educators Association. Or that in 2005, 2013 and 2017, the National Association of Music Merchants tabbed Marshall as one of the top 100 Communities in Music Education in the United States.
It's been like that at least since 1983, when Ivers took over an already popular program.
"Since before I came, they always made sure that music is available to everyone who wants it to be available," he said. "I just kept that going."
Of course, he did much more than that, with immersive recruiting at all school levels that brought together cadres and coteries that usually do not meld.
"He was simply not interested in whether you were a cheerleader, football player, band geek, class president or straight-A student," said Alicia Choury, a saxophonist from the Class of 1990. "Marching band was perhaps the one place that all kinds of students and cliques blended. Thanks to Mr. Iver's vision, leadership style and respect for each individual, we stood together on a common playing ground with a common purpose. Learning to march backward or sideways while playing an instrument and not crashing into your neighbor keeps it real."
To accommodate and motivate his marching musicians, Ivers makes the band's schedule easier for athletes to participate in both endeavors, and he doesn't obligate every music student to march.
"The philosophy at our school is for the kids who want to be all music, we will make that happen," Ivers said. "So we have band, choir and orchestra, and some kids are in all three.
"Some schools require everybody in the [school] band to be in marching band. We don't. Some kids don't want to do both, so we don't force that. So when you have a group that's all-volunteer, they have more skin in the game."
Among the results: "Just the fact he is able to round up upward of 150 students and get them to show up on time consistently, that's impressive," Hassan said with a hearty laugh.
For all of that accommodation, Ivers still sets rigorous standards. He said he considers hard work and desire "way more important" than talent.
"He was hard to please but not impossible," Choury said. "Try your best and do well, and he'd be pleased. Fail to try, provide excuses instead of results, and he'd let you see and hear his frustration. No games, no handling with kid gloves, just honest feedback and straightforward expectations. He spoke to us and treated us as adults."
That kind of respect has been reciprocated.
"There's this unspoken and also spoken respect that all of us students, teachers and parents have for Mr. Ivers," Hassan said, "this mystical aura. That and he knows what he's doing."
Ivers "cares deeply" about his students, Choury said. He also draws as much energy from them as they do from him.
"Working with these kids, that keeps you young," said Ivers, whose typical day includes four band sessions, a rock-music history class and middle-school lessons. "They're crazy; you never know what they're going to do next."
The surprises include frequent quantum leaps in performance between freshman and sophomore years.
"For ninth-graders the hardest music they'll play is the marching band," Ivers said. "It's always amazing to me to have ninth-graders struggle and then they're doing well. We've had some that struggled in ninth grade and ended up marching in college."
Indeed, Marshall grads have ended up in the marching bands at schools such as Notre Dame and the University of Southern California. One year, the University of Minnesota band included nine Marshall grads, more than any other school.
A more recent matriculator, Ashley Arndorfer, who plays trumpet, is taking a year off since graduating in the spring but said she might join the ensemble at Minnesota State, Mankato, next year. For now, she's basking in fond memories of her time in the Tigers marching band.
"I was very scared to join before freshman year, but my sister Michelle was in it the four years before so I gave it a try," she said. "It turned out to be the best thing I ever did. It gave me my best friends. The band was family to me, and Mr. Ivers is someone I look up to not just as an instructor but my friend."
If she marches again, though, it will be in an entirely different social milieu.
"Lots of schools' marching bands are looked at as the nerdy thing," Ivers said. "It's not like that here. When our kids go to college and people ask, they say marching band was cool here."
See Marshall in action
The Marshall High School Marching Band will be competing Saturday, Oct. 12, in the 2019 Youth in Music Marching Band Championships, along with dozens of other bands from the region, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. See the website for complete details about this all-day event.