WESTMINSTER - Rows and rows of the finest virtuosos will be marching in the Chapter XIII Championship at Westminster High School Saturday.

Keen competition and high stepping mark the day 23 bands, including all five from the county high schools, take to the field.

The chapter includes schools from Carroll, Frederick, Washington and Garrett counties in Maryland, as well as several from Eastern West Virginia.

About 2,000 students will participate, with each band competing in one of four groups based on size. At stake is a slot in the Atlantic Coast Championship Competition, scheduled for Nov. 10 and 11 in Scranton, Pa.

The first-place winners in each group Saturday automatically receive an invitation to Scranton. Depending on the total number of points earned in all 13 chapter tournaments this weekend, other high-scoring bands also could be among the 25, from each chapter group, traveling to Scranton.

"Everybody works all through the fall season to qualify for the Atlantic Coast Championship," said Jeff Rogers, Westminster High band director. "We were happy when we just made it last year."

Drum majors from Group I, which includes Francis Scott Key and three other competitors with up to 35 musicians, will strike up their bands at 4 p.m.

FSK hopes to "smoke" its rivals, said Dennis K. Davis, Eagles band director.

"From everything we have heard, we will be right in the thick of the competition," said Davis, who added that Key enters the tournament "dead even" with its competitors.

"We have a better shot now than any other time in the past three years I've been here," said Davis.

Liberty High follows next, competing in Group II, for 36 to 55 musicians. The Lions have won their division every year so far, said director Steve Miles, adding he is confident of a repeat win with "the strongest band I have ever had."

Carroll's other three schools, and seven others with 56 to 75 musicians, will be scored in Group III.

South Carroll director Bradley Collins calls the tournament "a great opportunity to see so many bands in our own back yard." He said he hoped many area music-lovers will come out for the event.

"I know all the bands will turn in a great performance," he said.

"Score-wise, it's really hard to predict the winners."

North Carroll director Gene Bochniak said the Panthers have a "good shot" in the "friendly competition."

Rogers called Group III competitors well matched, adding none of the 10 bands is "head and shoulders" above the rest.

Frankfort from West Virginia, which took first place in the group last year, has been working with a new director this year. A leadership change sometimes involves an adjustment period, Rogers said.

"Although you can never know what other bands will do, we have a good idea of where we stand and what we need to do," said Rogers, declining to predict what would happen Saturday. "I am very optimistic given our scores so far this season."

In addition to points, winning bands earn trophies, which Rogers calls "motivational devices." He said the most important aspect of any competition is that the musicians feel good about what they are learning.

"I have given the kids a show that will allow them to excel," he said.

"The program is clicking, the show works, but it's on the kids' shoulders just how far they will go."

Rogers said his hat is off to the Westminster Band Boosters, composed of parents and other supporters, who helped organize the event.

After paying judges' fees and other expenses, the boosters earn a percentage of the gate, said Rogers, adding the tournament will be the main fund-raising activity this year.

Information: 848-2558.

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