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The Gilbert Marching Band is a force of nature … in size and sound

With his head tilted slightly to the ground, Gilbert High School band director Byron Tinder slowly shuffles around in front of his junior and senior marching band as it plays the Iowa State fight song on a pleasant Monday morning while the sun blazes in the background.

Tinder isn’t watching his band. He’s listening to his band. Meticulously listening, actually. Soon enough, he stops the performance and speaks in an even tone into his bullhorn so that his direction is amplified across the field.

Yes, Tinder uses a bullhorn. It’s necessary with so many band members spread from 30-yard-line to 30-yard-line inside Tiger Stadium. Roughly 20 minutes later, a similar pattern materializes when his freshman and sophomore marching band is on the field.

Interestedly enough, the only time the two bands come together is during home football games in the fall. And when they do? It’s glorious.

Ten years ago, the Gilbert marching band had only 62 members — a respectable number, but not necessarily the standard for a program with such lofty expectations, its own and those of the community. Today though, the marching band is 131 strong and the envy of many similarly-sized school districts across the state. Now you also know why the two groups practice separately.

“We are a very unique band in that our marching bands don’t rehearse as a group together,” Tinder says while sitting comfortably in his massive band room early Monday morning. “The percentage of the student body in band is probably 25 percent and if they were all meeting the same period, you’d run into all kinds of gridlock in the schedule. That’s why we don’t do much movement on the marching band field. You’re going to hear us play different music every Friday night and we’re going to play it well, but we’re going to stand and play it.”

When Tinder came to Gilbert 11 years ago, he made the conscious decision to transition away from competitive marching band. It took too much time and energy from the students, and the outcome was a drastic drop in numbers. After four years under his leadership, the band went from 62 members to 129 and has consistently stayed between 125 and 140 ever since.

“I preach to parents that you can be in band and anything else,” Tinder says. “We want athletes, we want kids who are National Merit scholars, we want kids who are in choir, speech and FFA, and we want kids who hold jobs to be in band. So we’re not going to chase trophies in marching band, but that’s what’s resulted in the growth of our program in numbers. The challenge is to keep the quality of the product high along with the numbers.”

That hasn’t been a problem for the Gilbert band, which is quite apparent when you hear it play under the Friday Night Lights.

Tinder and his pupils thrive on those expectations though. They know spectators aren’t going to race to the concession stand at halftime of home football games. Rather, they’re going to sit right where they are to enjoy the band’s halftime show.

“The expectations here, it’s not just in music, it’s everything,” Tinder says. “It’s the academics, it’s the well-rounded students we produce. To teach in a district with these expectations is really fun. There’s a challenge to it, but I’d rather teach here than a place that didn’t expect great things.”

Those expectations will certainly be amplified this Friday night when, for the third time in eight years, the Gilbert marching band will welcome its Iowa State University brethren to Tiger Stadium for a joint performance. Nearly 500 band members will fill the field for pregame and halftime performances, similar to what they did at the grand opening of the stadium on Aug. 29, 2014 — a raucous occasion that culminated in a fireworks show following a 38-6 victory over Webster City — as well as four years ago on ISU’s second visit to Gilbert.

“It’s a win-win (for both bands) because there’s such a natural connection and partnership between Gilbert and Iowa State,” Tinder says. “We agreed that it works really well for both of us to do this, but it has to work with the schedule. We have to have a home game and they have to have a home game, but this gives them a chance to get a run through for their show on Saturday. Their kids can carpool up here, they can rehearse up here at our Intermediate field, they get a performance here, and then our boosters feed them.

“To have one of the really top collegiate bands in the country in our backyard is a blessing. And then for them to be so accommodating and to be so in tune with the public schools is a neat thing. The whole band department down there understands what we do and is accessible to us. It’s a year-round thing. We are always able to pick up the phone and bounce ideas off of them.”

The Gilbert marching band has been a conduit to the ISU marching band over the years. Currently, a handful of Gilbert graduates now put on the ISU uniform and two — Sura Smadi and Kyle Grossnickle — serve in leadership roles.

“Over the past few years, we’ve probably averaged six to seven (Gilbert graduates as members of the ISU band) per year, which has been really cool,” Tinder says.

As good as Gilbert’s band is, Tinder knows it will not be the featured attraction Friday night. When the Cyclones’ 300-plus members step onto the field, they’ll be in the spotlight and with good reason.

“That band is a force of nature, so we know we’re not going to drive the tempo Friday night,” Tinder says which a chuckle. “We’re just going to hang on and go with them. It’s kind of like when our middle schoolers come over and play with us. We’re going to play our tempo and they’re going to hang on for the ride.”

It can be nerve-wracking to try to play alongside a top-tier Division I college band, but that’s also what makes it exciting. And in past performances, Gilbert’s marching band has more than held its own.

Following it’s warm-up at the Intermediate School, the ISU band will parade over to Tiger Stadium at 6:45 p.m. on Friday. Soon after — at 7:15 p.m., just prior to kickoff — the show will officially begin.

You won’t want to miss it.


Gilbert senior Mikayla Lauritsen turns her passion into a future

Sitting with her legs tucked underneath her, Gilbert senior Mikayla Lauritsen pushes her hair back behind her ears to reveal a beaming smile on her face as she talks about her passion. It’s an under-the-radar passion, something that probably not a lot of her classmates even know about, but it’s started her on a journey she will follow after she exits high school.

Lauritsen’s love and dedication to it is what makes her chuckle though as she sits in the office of Gilbert Assistant Principal John Ronca on a late August afternoon. Her mind drifts back to the summer of 2019, prior to the start of her freshman year at GHS, and her reluctance to even join the group that she now considers family.

“I had a friend who said, ‘I think you’d be interested in this,’ but I honestly felt obligated to join her at the new student meeting,” Lauritsen said. “But it was probably the best investment I’ve made.”

That investment was in Team Neutrino, an engineering club for Story County students founded at Ames High School in 2011 before it moved to Iowa State University in 2012. Each spring, Team Neutrino competes in the FIRST Robotics Competition with the goal of qualifying for the World Championship.

The build and competition are only part of the team’s mission though. Team Neutrino also spends days, weeks, and months mentoring young students in central Iowa in an effort to highlight the benefits of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).

“Getting other kids involved is really, really important,” Lauritsen, who is now in her fourth year with the team said. “We want to be able to teach STEM to the new generation, and we’re willing to help any aspiring engineer with anything they want to do.”

Team Neutrino recently produced its own television show entitled Full STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics) Ahead, which airs on Ames Public Access TV (Mediacom channel 121-16). Debuting on Aug. 27, the seven-episode series broadcasts every Saturday.

Team Neutrino began its outreach to aspiring engineers online during the COVID-19 pandemic with Stay At Home STEAM, a Youtube series that ran for nine weeks.

“During quarantine, we were all trying to figure out how to get more kids interested in STEM, so we came up with these activities that would be focused around the principles of STEAM,” Lauritsen said.

As part of its summer outreach program, Team Neutrino teaches a class through the Ames Community School District. It also takes part in summer camps, and attends other events throughout central Iowa to spread its love for engineering.

In some ways, it can be a full-time job. Throw in the additional hours of work and exhaustion — mentally and physically — during competition season and Lauritsen says it’s her team’s version of varsity athletics.

“We say it’s very much like a varsity sport that is played year-around,” she said.

It’s that willingness to give back to her own classmates and the younger generation that impresses Gilbert Principal Cindy Bassett.

“I’m super excited for Mikayla because she has found and spent time with something that she’s so passionate about,” Bassett said. “She’s excelled and helped her team excel, and she just makes a great role model for other high school kids and other kids in the district who want to go into those areas.”

The FIRST Robotics Competition is considered the big-time in Team Neutrino’s world, and in 2022 the group had its most successful season in history. It all began in early January on what is called Kickoff Day, where robotics teams across the country learned about the game that would be played. That’s when strategy and plans were put into place, as teams had only six weeks to build their robot and get it ready to compete in Rapid React, a game that revolves around utilizing the robots to shoot inflatable over-sized tennis balls into a central hub.

“During build season, we’re together probably 20 to 25 hours per week,” Lauritsen said.

Team Neutrino’s 2022 build went quite well, as it was one of only three teams to triple qualify for the World Championship. It won the Engineering Inspiration Award at the Iowa Regional, and then captured the Chairman’s Award at the Minnesota North Star Regional.

At the World Championship in Houston, Team Neutrino became the first Iowa team to win the Championship Engineering Inspiration Award, a fact that Lauritsen relays with pride.

“When we won the event with the robot at the North Star Regional, that was really cool too,” she said.

This season, Lauritsen is taking on an even bigger role with Team Neutrino as a team captain, an honor bestowed upon her during the offseason. She admits there are butterflies in her stomach as she schemes with her teammates to keep Team Neutrino among the most competitive groups in the country.

“I was really excited and also really scared when I found out I was named a captain,” she said. “I was speechless and I wondered how can I live up to these expectations? But then I thought, oh yeah, I have a lot of great people that can help me.

“This past offseason, we did a good job of getting people involved.”

Not only does Team Neutrino continue its outreach program while it prepares for the spring competition season, it also has to constantly fundraise. News flash: it’s not cheap to build a robot, which is why the group — which includes a group of dedicated advisors led by team coach Brian Steward, Professor of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering at Iowa State — is constantly looking for ways to raise funds.

“A lot of people don’t know that it’s really expensive to build a robot,” Lauritsen said. “We raise about $40,000 every year and most of it is through sponsorships.”

Last season, companies such as Apple — yes, THE Apple — and NASA were major donors to the team. So were John Deere, Sauer-Danfoss, and Workiva. In all, some 20 organizations contributed to the team’s cause.

Lauritsen is hopeful the 2023 season will be equally successful to last spring. Afterward, she’ll set her sights on her future as a student at Iowa State next fall.

Want to take a guess at what she plans to major in?

“Mechanical engineering and industrial engineering are the two possible fields at Iowa State,” Lauritsen, who has already been accepted to the college, said. “I’m really interested in manufacturing and how to make things more efficient, but that’s not (offered) at Iowa State.”

Something that began out of reluctance with that initial Team Neutrino meeting has now turned into a potential career for Lauritsen. Sometimes, it’s the chances we take that produce the best results, something Lauritsen now knows first-hand.

To view the 2022 Team Neutrino Chairman’s video, click HERE.


Bella Nelson selected to play in IGCA All-Star Series

Gilbert senior Bella Nelson will get the chance to represent the Tigers’ softball program one more time on Saturday, July 23, when she takes part in the Iowa Girls Coaches Association All-Star series at Waukee High School.

Nelson, a five-year starter and all-conference performer, will be the first Gilbert player to ever play in the prestigious series. She will compete for Team Red and will play at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Three teams — Team Red, Team White and Team Blue — will each have 13 to 14 players on their respective rosters for the round-robin format.

Nelson will also take part in the Home Run Derby as part of the All-Star Series. She owns Gilbert’s school record for career dingers with 16.

It’s not a surprise to Tigers’ head softball coach Staci Snizek that Nelson was chosen to play alongside and against the best players in the state. Nelson has spent her entire career proving that she belongs among the elite.

“For a student-athlete like Bella to represent us is perfect just because of what she’s given back in the other sports,” Snizek said. “She’s just a really good kid, and it lets other players learn about what hard work can do. She’s representing Gilbert and that’s just going to help more Gilbert kids set goals.”

Twice a Class 4A all-state selection, Nelson exits Gilbert having played in 122 games with a career batting average of .411 to go along with 108 RBIs and a slugging percentage of .653.

As a senior, Nelson hit at a .351 clip and led the team in RBIs with 31. She also belted two home runs, her final long ball coming in the first inning of the Tigers’ 15-3, 6-inning rout of Webster City in a 4A regional quarterfinal contest last Friday evening.

Snizek says the numbers are indicative of Nelson’s work ethic, both in front of fans and when no one was looking.

“Bella is the type of player that even though she would have one of the highest batting averages on the team, she’d be the last one at the diamond always getting extra cuts in,” Snizek said. “She would still put that extra work in even if she was hitting well, so for her to be rewarded with this is perfect.”

Nelson helped Gilbert post an overall record of 14-16 during the 2022 season. The Tigers put a scare into fifth-ranked and Raccoon River Conference rival Carlisle in the 4A regional semifinal round before the Wildcats ultimately prevailed in 8 innings, 4-3.

A three-sport standout at Gilbert, Nelson piled up 110 kills, 49 digs, 39 blocks and 14 service aces for the Tigers’ volleyball team last fall. In 2020, she was a starter on the Tigers’ squad that reached the 4A state semifinals.

This past spring, she ran on a pair of relays — the sprint medley and 4×100 — at the state track and field meet.

Nelson will head to Des Moines Area Community College in the fall where she will continue her softball career for the Bears, a national power at the junior college level.

“She committed to (DMACC) last summer and she’s super excited to use that as maybe a bridge to something bigger,” Snizek said. “That’s Bella’s end goal, to keep developing as a player and hopefully end up in Division I.”

Nelson is the daughter of Wade and Marcy Nelson. She has two siblings, Riley and Brooklyn; Riley, a 2019 Gilbert graduate, was also an all-state softball player for the Tigers. She went on to play collegiately at North Iowa Area Community College.

Congratulations to Bella on a tremendous honor and a fantastic career at Gilbert Schools.

Gilbert participates in State Track

Congratulations to the Gilbert athletes who participated in the state track yesterday. Some highlights from the meet

Ava Hawthorne placed 13th in the 400m dash and ran a PR of 1.01.92

William Wadsley placed 9th in the 3200m run and ran a PR of 10.05.26

Great job, Tigers. We look forward to the rest of the meet!

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