WILDWOOD — This weekend, thousands of students will descend on the Wildwoods Convention Center for the Tournament of Bands Atlantic Coast Championships, a four-day musical and performance extravaganza featuring performers of all ages competing to be the best.
In all, 240 schools and independent organizations from nine states in the Tournament of Bands mid-Atlantic region will compete in a number of disciplines, including color guard, percussion ensemble, dance team and jazz band for this annual championship.
The indoor championship event has been held in Wildwood since its inauguration 46 years ago, moving into the current convention center after its construction. When it first started, the ACC featured just a dozen or so participating groups. Now, the event has grown so large that at least one man believes it might as well signal the unofficial start to the shore town’s tourist season.
Jeff Dent, director of Tournament of Bands, said this is one of the champion events' biggest years in terms of participation. He said it’s exciting for the students and their families, but also for the town, which benefits from the large influx of visitors.
“It’s one of the largest events at the Wildwoods Convention Center during the whole year, actually, we’re their biggest event and biggest draw. We fill a whole side (of the convention center) for our championship events on Saturday and Sunday,” he said. “We have students that are coming from eight hours away. We have some groups that are doing this for the first time and some groups that have been with us for more than 40 years.”
By his count, performers and fans are guests at more than 100 hotels and motels throughout the Wildwood area.
Tournament of Bands hosts 100 indoor competitions and 100 field events over the course of the year. The championship in Wildwood is the culmination of the organization’s indoor event season.
Much like high school sports, the Tournament of Bands features several champions in several groups in both Open and Invitational categories. Previous area winners of the tournament include Southern Regional High School in 2017, Oakcrest High School in 2015 and Middle Township High School in 2007.
The Tournament of Bands was founded in 1972 and includes more than 400 teams spread throughout its 13 regions.
The championship event has become something to look forward to, not only for current performers, but for those who performed in the past. Its growth is a testament not only to the continued interest and support of band competition, but also the legacy established by the long-running event.
“It’s become not only a tradition for a lot of groups but also a family event, because now we’re getting into second and third generations of performers,” said Dent, a retired music educator. “Some of my students that participated I will see bring their children and watch them (perform) in the event.”
Though the ACC are a good time for participants and spectators alike, there is serious business to attend to. The event will pack roughly 450 total performances into its four days in Wildwood — Tournament of Bands also holds a few of its performances at nearby Middle Township High School and the Starlight Ballroom — from early morning to nearly midnight.
At stake are ACC titles as well as scholarships for some performing seniors. This year, the Tournament of Bands will award more than $30,000 in scholarships to about 28 seniors.
“It’s very exciting but also very tense for them. But it’s always very rewarding,” he said. “We’ll have groups that will participate up to three, four times including championship rounds.”