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Vickroy: From parent volunteers to band of brothers

Andrew High School bdads group current former volunteers meet recently Little Joe's restaurant Tinley Park.  |  DonnVickroy~Sun-Times Media

Andrew High School band dads, a group of current and former volunteers, meet recently at Little Joe's restaurant in Tinley Park. | Donna Vickroy~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 14, 2014 12:21PM



So there they were, stuck on a high curb in downtown Indianapolis. The driver cut the corner too sharply and the 12-ton school bus, filled with Andrew High School musicians on their way home after one of the biggest competitions of the year, went up over the curb and got stuck.

It might have meant a several-hour delay for the couple of mom chaperones and the 30 exhausted, perpetually hungry teens. But not to fear, the band dads were there.

“Me and Jim Cermak went to the prop truck, busted up some wood and jammed it under the bus,” Fred Sansone said, piecing together the 2008 event. “Then about 12 dads rocked the bus as we moved the wood further under the tire to give it some traction. Finally, we got that bus off the curb.”

It was just another day and just another disaster averted by this group of hard-working, wisecracking volunteer dads, a collection of carpenters, accountants, mechanics and small-business owners who routinely gave up their free time to load equipment, build sets, unload equipment, tear down sets and do whatever is necessary to keep the band show on the road.

All high school bands rely on parent volunteers. The moms and dads chaperone trips, sew uniforms, haul equipment and provide constant sustenance. They are an essential part of the operation. They know that without their involvement, the band wouldn’t be able to do all that it does. Most importantly, they know that their participation has a lasting effect on their children.

But while most parents put in their time and move on, the Andrew collection of band dads has grown into something bigger. For nearly 10 years, about 30 of them have regularly gotten together outside of the band to eat pizza, drink a few beers and remember with increasing fondness the many crazy and fun experiences they had during their kids’ glory days in the band program.

They are indeed something special. They are close friends, a band of brothers they call themselves.

“This is my second family,” said John Cusimano, whose son graduated from Andrew several years ago. “We have a blast. There were times we had more fun than the kids. But it meant a lot to my son that not only did I volunteer, I enjoyed it.”

When Sansone move from Chicago to the southwest suburbs in 1993, he didn’t know anybody.

“In the city, everybody knows their neighbors, everybody talks to each other,” he said.

It wasn’t until his son, Nick, joined the Andrew band and Fred signed up as a volunteer dad that he actually started making suburban friends, he said.

Fred Bartucci tells a similar story.

“I moved here in 1999. The bands dads were my first real friends out here,” he said. “There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for any one of these guys. And they’d do the same for me.”

The group, which met earlier this week at Little Joe’s Restaurant in Tinley Park, has its roots in band camp in 2004. After six days of toiling under the hot sun, moving equipment, fixing equipment, driving trucks, unloading trucks, filling coolers and delivering food to the masses, three of the volunteer fathers decided they’d have a little late-night barbecue for themselves.

After all, they had to take vacation time to be able to work like dogs. Before they knew it, Sansone, Bartucci and Mike Puckett had company.

At first, just a sprinkling of insomniacs, but over the years, as word of the last-night barbecue spread, that 1 a.m. cookout morphed into a late-night camp closer for the entire band.

“By the end, we were bringing 70 pounds of chicken and 20 pounds of steaks to camp,” Sansone said.

What they didn’t realize at the time was the affect the band students were having on them.

“We had so much fun that first year, even though there’s no place on Earth hotter than band camp in July,” Sansone said. “One day we were moving equipment across a field, and Tony Serratore says, ‘Hey, we should all go out for pizza after this.’”

And they’ve been going out ever since. Each year, they extend an open invitation to the newcomers who are now doing their time. They fit right in with the old-timers because, as retired band director Dan Romano said, “the stories are all the same.”

Romano, whom many of the men credit with creating a welcoming environment for all volunteers, said, “Every year, a bus breaks down. Every year, a piece of equipment fails. Every year, something funny happens at band camp.”

Romano, now a member of the band dads group, added that “I’m just glad I didn’t know everything at the time.”

He’s referring to the shenanigans — times such as when the band dads freely handed out popsicles even though they were told not to and when they had a little too much fun with the color guard’s performance rifles.

The men love to relive those stories. They still laugh about the time a bus broke down and an astute dad noticed that the metal piece at the end of the color guard flagpoles was exactly the part they needed to fix it. Mike Conrad recalled the day a major thunderstorm struck during band camp.

“The power went out. There was a generator, but it was broken,” he said. “So the band dads fixed it and got everything going again.”

When band alum Amanda Puckett died from an undetected heart defect in August, the guys rallied to put together a scholarship program in her name. So far, they’ve collected $2,500.

Phil Knippen said though they seem like a disparate group of guys, with only their children’s band membership in common, they really want to help however they can.

“It starts with unloading a truck one day, and the next thing you know, you’re a member of the group,” said Tony Filipiak, whose daughter graduated from Andrew in 2006.

Brian Gustasfson’s son, Danny, is a junior trumpet player in the band.

“Volunteering is a way of giving back,” he said. “I don’t want to be a parent who just writes a check. This group is a bonus.”

Tom Brown, who has one daughter in the band and another set to join next year, said the dads group is “like a great big family. We all have the same cause, our kids. And our kids love that we’re there.”

“You know what was the best?” Sansone said, “When you walked into the band room and 40 kids yelled ‘Yeah!’”

Even now, Bartucci said, when you run into one of those kids at the mall or a restaurant, they are so happy to see you.

“We’re like celebrities,” he said.



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