by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: MARK MILLER - The St. Helens High School marching band performs at halftime during a home football game against Liberty High School on Sept. 13.The marching bands performing at Sprague High School in Salem Saturday, Sept. 28, competed not only with one another, but against the elements on the record-breaking rainy day.

But despite the downpour, St. Helens High School’s marching band acquitted itself well in its first competition of the season, placing first of the two schools in its class in the preliminary round of the Pacific Coast Invitational.

St. Helens High topped Hillsboro High School’s band in “Class A,” a designation used at the competition for bands with 68 or fewer members.

It fared less well in the final round, which included all eight schools at the competition regardless of class — including reigning PCI champs West Salem High School, which took first place once again — where it placed fifth.

“They did good,” said Noelle Freshner, St. Helens High marching band director. She added, “We usually start the season off pretty well in single-A, usually in the top two or three in single-A.”

Randy Sutton, PCI chairman, said the inclement weather last weekend made it difficult for performers.

“From a rain perspective, you know, they’re out there with wool uniforms and they’re carrying fairly heavy instruments,” Sutton said.

“It was horrific. It was absolutely horrific,” said Freshner. “There were times where I debated whether we needed to just go home. It was that bad. ... It affected everybody’s performances. Your flags would be so wet that they’d just wrap around the poles.”Freshner

Freshner added, “Compared to some groups, we handled it pretty well. But it was not pretty.”

Wet equipment was set out to dry in the St. Helens High School cafeteria over the weekend after the competition, Freshner said, adding that even by Monday morning, when the equipment was put away, some items were still damp.

Sutton did not offer an estimate of attendance at Saturday’s event, but he said it was “definitely down” from previous years due to the heavy winds and rain.

“You had to be a real diehard supporter, I think, to sit in the stands through that,” Sutton said.

The PCI is one of several fall-season marching band competitions in Oregon organized by the Northwest Association for Performing Arts. The series of events is set to culminate Nov. 2 with championships at Hillsboro Stadium.

The St. Helens High band is participating in the championships, as well as this Saturday’s competition at Southridge High School in Beaverton and an event in Yakima, Wash., later this month.

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