Last weekend was a historic one for Grain Valley High School. The football team soundly beat Raytown to clinch the District Championship on Friday night. The Grain Valley Marching Eagles traveled to Indianapolis for the Bands of America National Championships, making it to semifinals and placing 26th out of 100 bands. A landmark weekend for sure, and one student managed the Herculean feat of participating in both events, racking up nearly 2,000 travel miles in the process.
GVHS Senior Jackson Doolin has been a Marching Eagle and on the football team all four years of his high school career, and has become adept at managing the two activities in the fall. But this year presented a unique challenge when he looked at the calendar this past summer.
“Back in May, we first realized both events were on the same weekend and it was finalized in July,” Doolin said.
Doolin sat down with his parents to come up with a game plan.
“It’s his senior year. How are we going to do both and can we commit to both? We looked at flights, but it made the most sense to drive,” Doolin’s mom Julie Pexa said.
As the football team continued their run of success throughout the season, their travel plans became real.
On Thursday, Doolin boarded one of the buses with the band and headed to Indianapolis. A series of traffic headaches caused the band to not arrive at their hotels until late that evening. The band members caught a few hours of sleep and headed to Lucas Oil Stadium early Friday morning for their preliminary performance at Nationals.
Pexa left Thursday morning as well, picking up her husband Greg Pexa, who flew from work in Phoenix to Indianapolis to join them.
Right after the band’s preliminary show on Friday morning, Doolin switched out of his band uniform, jumped in the car with his family and girlfriend Erica Buchanan, and drove back to Grain Valley.
“I was a few minutes late. I was supposed to be at the high school at 4:35pm, and I think I arrived at 4:37pm,” Doolin quipped.
Doolin and his teammates proceeded to trounce Raytown 43-0 on a bitterly cold evening at Moody Murry stadium, clinching the District championship.
Meanwhile, back in Indianapolis, the Marching Eagles were announced as one of the bands who would proceed onto semifinals competition on Saturday morning.
So, after a quick shower, and a stop at McDonald’s for dinner on the way out of town, Doolin, his parents and girlfriend were back on the road overnight through sleet and snow to Indianapolis.
“It was go time,” Pexa said.
Doolin made it back to Lucas Oil Stadium at 6:20am, meeting the band trailers as they pulled in.
“And then it was go time again,” Doolin said.
The band competed in semi finals, finishing 26th out of 100 bands in national competition. Doolin enjoyed the rest of the weekend with his band mates, returned home Sunday, and was back in class and off to football practice on Monday this week.
Looking back on the whirlwind weekend, Doolin was quick to give credit to his parents, girlfriend, and coaches for their support.
“My mom and stepdad have been extremely supportive and watch me do it all. Since I was in pee wee football, my mom has hardly missed a game or a band performance. And my stepdad’s been there to support me. He left work in Phoenix, flew to Indianapolis, and traveled with us all weekend before returning to Phoenix on Monday. I’m very appreciative of both of them for that. And my girlfriend has been there supporting everything. She did all the traveling too.”
“(Coach David Allie and Director of Bands Travis Barzee) are the supporting cast. Both of them are very supportive of what I do. They don’t necessarily make it easy, but they’ve always been supportive of me.”
Barzee expresseed his pride in Doolin’s efforts this year and over the past four years.
“Jackson has completed four successful seasons dual participating in band and football and has set the standard for how to handle such a challenge. His commitment to both activities was seen in full force as he successfully made both the band's BOA Grand Nationals competition and the football team's home playoff game against Raytown. Jackson came to me months ago and laid out a plan for what the weekend could look like for him should the football team make it that far into the playoffs. His ability to effectively communicate to both myself and Coach Allie to coordinate and advocate for his ability to succeed in two activities that he is passionate about sets Jackson apart. I am very proud of him for finishing out our season in all the right ways and look forward to cheering him on as the football team continues through the playoffs,” Barzee said.
Coach David Allie agreed.
“As Mr. Barzee said, Jackson has been a dual participant in band and football for all four years his high school career. Both programs require an enormous time commitment during the school year and in the off-season as well, particularly during the summer, and Jackson never wavered in his dedication to either one.”
“He always communicated with Mr. Barzee and me to ensure that he was able to spend time in both endeavors, and I know both programs benefited from his participation.”
“I feel that it is important to assist and encourage our students to participate in multiple activities, and I am glad that we are at a high school where other students and program leaders, like Mr. Barzee, can work together to provide the most positive experiences possible for our young men and women.”
“One of the core values we promote is family and the idea of sacrificing for the good of others; Jackson clearly exhibits this trait with the most recent travel to Indianapolis for Grand Nationals, back to Grain Valley for our District Championship game, and then returning to Indianapolis after the game to participate in the band's historic performance in the Grand National Semifinal competition. He will be an inspiration to future participants in both programs!”
“He’s faced a lot of adversity in life. He exerts his energy on positive things instead of focusing on negative things,” mom Julie Pexa said.
“All the communication honestly has been him. When it’s communicating between the coaches and the band director, It’s been up to him.”
Even though Doolin is not planning to continue band or football at the college level, he says the lessons he’s learned participating in both activities and learning to manage his participation in both programs will serve him well in the future.
Doolin plans to attend Missouri Western after high school and study business.
“It’s all been emotional, too. I’m super grateful. It’s something I couldn’t imagine myself not doing,” Doolin said.
Doolin and his supporters celebrating the Eagles District championship win on Friday evening before heading back to Indianapolis. Photo credit: Julie Pexa
Doolin, foreground with bass clarinet, performing with the Marching Eagles in national competition at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Photo credit: Julie Pexa