For a third consecutive year, David Ratliff, the director for Madison Southern High School's marching band, has seen his numbers steadily climb.

This year, Ratliff said he has 93 students participating in marching band and color guard, which is the biggest number they've had in history at Southern. Ratliff credits the growth to the great educators at Farristown and Foley Middle Schools, who have instilled a love and appreciation of music to students at an early age.

"It's a lot easier to get kids excited here when those middle school folks are getting them excited," Ratliff said. "We've got some really good elementary general music teachers that just kind of get them excited about music in general and then we've got Kristen and Emily, specifically, that do outstanding work at the two middle schools with the band. There's no way we could do what we do here without those guys in middle school."

And while a lot of his students have come from the middle schools over the years, he also noted that students entering their junior and even senior years are joining as well. Ratliff recalled a junior who started marching band because his girlfriend was in color guard. That student came to Ratliff after graduation, saying his only regret was not starting band sooner.

Ratliff, who's in his 25th year of teaching, said the theme for this year's competition is "Unbroken," and brings with it a message of spirit and determination that "draws us all." Ratliff said they decided to showcase this message through a horse and even procured a horse sculpture to serve as a prop for the show. The moveable sculpture came from a show in Western Kentucky, that ended up being sold to a group in Detroit. Ratliff was able to get them to part ways with one for their show.

The uniforms the color guard will be wearing is reminiscent of different horses as well, in browns, grays and black with an orange highlight color.

For this season's show, Brent Barton wrote the wind music, and Ratliff has written the percussion part, which comes naturally for the duo who have a special relationship. Ratliff worked for Barton as an assistant nearly 20 years ago.

"Equus" starts off their horse-themed competition, followed by the Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses." With "Wild Horses," Ratliff said he knows it's a song that most people will recognize as well as make the connection to his theme of "Unbroken."

The band is doing their regular round-up of fundraising activities, including selling cookie dough, candles and working the concessions at most of the school's games. But the work doesn't seem so hard to Ratliff, who said he's lucky to have an administration as great as the one in Madison County.

"I'm really happy and proud to work in a county where music is as supported as it is, not only at the local level but at the district level with the superintendent," Ratliff said. "It just speaks to the quality of administrators that we have, that they see that there is value in a wide variety of activities."

Southern's marching band will take to the turf on Saturday, Sept. 7, for their first competition in Boyle County.

Reach Kaitlyn Brooks at 624-6608; follow her on Twitter @kaitlynsbrooks.

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