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Sissonville High School feature twirler Brittany Chaffin competes at the Gazette-Mail Kanawha County Majorette and Band Festival in 2018.

The Gazette-Mail Kanawha County Majorette and Band Festival has been canceled for what is believed to be the first time in its 70-plus year history.

Mark Davis, the Fine Arts Curriculum Specialist for Kanawha County Schools, said to his knowledge it’s the first time the festival, which has been going since 1947, has been canceled.

Davis said he and other festival organizers had been weighing everything since the coronavirus started making its appearance in West Virginia in the spring and decided canceling the festival was the way to go.

“It’s been on my radar for a while now. I’ve been checking out what’s going on statewide with band,” Davis said. “Recently the whole state of Ohio canceled their band competitions.

“I was getting questions from the judging panel from out of state and from Laidley Field — they had to order tickets.”

In talks with the band directors from area high schools, he said, they told him they weren’t expecting to be able to accomplish any semblance of a field show like people are used to.

“We’re up against something huge here,” Davis said.

The state Secondary Schools Activities Commission issued guidelines earlier this month prohibiting all-day band camps and said bands and choirs may practice using small groups, or pods, for no more than three hours a day.

Students now are practicing outdoors only in small groups with no more than 10 people. They had been working on music virtually and practicing with sheet music at home.

Indoor choir rehearsals were prohibited out of concern for spreading the virus through aerosol droplets while singing, according to the guidelines. Davis said there was also concern about aerosol droplets coming from wind and brass instruments.

“They talked about band uniforms and how droplets can live on uniforms,” Davis said. “[Uniforms] cost thousands of dollars each time you have to dry clean all of them.”

The issue of transportation was also a sticking point as students travel to and from the festival in the close confines of a school bus.

Davis said there was concern about what participation would look like if the show went on. Would people come? Would they feel safe? He said going on with the show would put more responsibility on the festival’s small group of volunteer workers to monitor for social distancing and other safety protocols.

He said parents and others suggested postponing the festival till spring, but fitting in the event with spring activities — such as spring sports or All-County or All-State band — would be tough if not impossible given all the moving parts the festival entails.

“We’re dealing with something we’ve never dealt with before,” Davis said.

The festival features field shows from the county’s eight high school bands and an exhibition show from West Virginia University or Marshall University’s marching bands. Marshall’s Marching Thunder was scheduled to perform this year.

“The judging panel and Marshall’s band staff have been really positive about all of this,” Davis said. “They understand. It’s a tough decision, but it’s the right one.”