GUYTON — The South Effingham Marching Mustangs have been playing mostly cheerful notes during the 2019 football season.
First-year head coach Nathan Clark gives the band and its director, Sean McBride, some credit for his team’s 5-1 start.
“(McBride) is as good of a band director as I’ve ever been around,” Clark said. “He does a phenomenal job. He keeps us fired up.”
McBride frequently leads chants that his band members parrot enthusiastically. For example, when the Mustangs’ opponents face a crucial third-down, McBride and company scream, “DE-FENSE! DE-FENSE! DE-FENSE!”
The Marching Mustangs also play lots of spirited songs and the players — whether on the field or on the sideline — frequently respond by dancing and/or bobbing up and down.
“There’s a lot of energy to be found and it’s just awesome to see the team having such success,” McBride said. “The environment has just been electric and it has been a lot of fun.”
McBride stays glued to the action during games, making sure his musicians play the right song at the right time. He picks tunes that correlate with game situations.
“Our primary function is to support our school and the groups in our school,” McBride said. “Obviously, we compete, too, and that is important to us as well, but when we are at the games our job is to try to have a positive impact for our team.”
McBride tries to get the Mustangs’ emotional meter to peak just before the ball is snapped. That keeps the musicians on the edge of the line in the rule book that says teams can be penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct if bands perform while the ball is in play.
“We have received warnings before,” McBride said. “It’s a little bit of gamesmanship. Sometimes a coach will try a quick snap to try to catch the band so we get a warning.
“Once you get a warning, you don’t want to get a flag on the team so you have to be ridiculously careful. We try to choose the music and do the arrangements that allow for us to provide a lot of energy but also get out of the way and get right back into it.”
The band’s intensity has rarely subsided because most of South Effingham’s football games have been competitive to the end. The Mustangs defeated Jenkins 29-26 in overtime and edged West Laurens 31-30 after rallying from a 21-7 deficit.
“When the game is close, there is always a lot of excitement,” McBride said. “Also, the Effingham County game (a 41-27 Mustangs win), it was exciting for a different reason. It was a big rivalry game and, you know, it had been awhile (since South Effingham won it.)”
Before the 2019 season started, the Mustangs had lost 28 of their last 32 games. The hadn’t beaten Effingham County since 2015.
McBride and Clark agreed gridiron success can positively impact a school’s culture.
“It change morale of the whole school,” Clark said. “We’ve just got to keep doing what we’re doing.”
Clark made it clear from that time of his arrival that he respects South Effingham’s traditions and his players will support other school groups just as much as they support the team.
“I think what we are seeing a little bit more of is a concerted effort to develop our school community and our school family,” McBride said. “I think, ultimately, that’s what the kids need. They need that sense of community and that place where they feel like they belong.
“I think we approach every Friday night as one big team — the folks on the field, the folks in the stands, the cheerleaders on the track, the student section all the way up through our administration. Everyone is about making it a positive experience and something that we can all be proud of at the end of the night.”