Marching bands from Blair, Elmwood-Murdock and Gretna took the top prizes in the AppleJack Parade Marching Band competition Saturday in Nebraska City.

Marching bands from Blair, Elmwood-Murdock and Gretna took the top prizes in the AppleJack Parade Marching Band competition Saturday in Nebraska City.
Blair took first place in the High School A-B Division of the competition. Milford took second place and Syracuse-Dunbar-Avoca was third.
Elmwood-Murdock took first place in the High School Class C-D Division. Palmyra took second place and Fairfax, Mo., was third.
Gretna took first in the Middle School Division. Blair took second and Syracuse-Dunbar-Avoca was third.
The Nebraska City AppleJack Parade’s band competition may well date back to the very first parade event. Jack Brawner, the namesake of the 45-year old community celebration, recalls working hard to bring in area bands to perform in the parade right from the start.
Bands are divided up into divisions based on several considerations.
Heather Bakula, who has worked as an assistant for the judges of the competition for the last 10 years, said band directors write down the division in which they would like to have their band compete. Other factors include the number of bands entered and the size of schools which the bands represent.
Criteria for judging bands is fairly elementary with musical performance quality, appearance, and marching ability as the major focusses.
Bakula said her role in assisting the judges involves tallying the score for each band. The winners are known soon after the last band passes the judging stand and awards plaques are awarded immediately thereafter.
This year’s judging stand was in front of Great Western Bank on Central Avenue.
Bakula said the band competition is definitely an enjoyable aspect of the parade.
“It’s a lot of fun to see the kids out marching,” said Bakula. “It takes a lot of effort on the school’s part and on the director’s part.”
Bakula said the competition aspect is not taken lightly and bands take great pride in having won.
“I think it’s very exciting,” Bakula said. “They’re surprised and elated.”
Greg Olsen, the director of the Nebraska City High School Band, echoed Bakula’s assesment of the competition.
Olsen said there are definitely nerves and expectations for the members of the Pioneer band on AppleJack.
Having that chance to march and be judged at a parade is essential to building a great band.
“Practicing is not the same as when somebody is watching,” said Olsen. “That’s what music is all about—having an audience. We need that audience. It pumps us up.”
This isn’t the only parade the Nebraska City band attends. Olsen said the band has been awarded second and third place finishes in recent marches at the Harvest of Harmony event, a Grand Island band competition that draws as many as 80 bands.
In 13 years of directing the Nebraska City band at AppleJack, Olsen said Nebraska City has yet to win a first place finish. The top finish he can remember is a third place designation.
Although it should be noted that the Nebraska City band performs at a bit of a disadvantage.
As the host band of the competition, the Nebraska City band plays first while the majority of the bands in its classification are judged near the end of the contest.
Comparing Nebraska City to the rest of its class can therefore be a tough challenge.
Olsen said he feels the judges always do their best to make it fair for everyone.
“They do their best and they try to make it a consistent deal,” said Olsen.
In the end, even if Nebraska City doesn’t win a trophy, Olsen said he feels like the school and community still come out winners.
Bands that have memorable performances at Nebraska City are likely to come back, thus keeping a high level of excitement for future years.
One of the main aspects of the competition that makes Nebraska City unique is the inclusion of a sizable middle school division.
Olsen said schools don’t have as large of a budget for their middle school band as they might for their high school band. Since the Nebraska City event has an affordable entry fee, Olsen said middle schools are able to compete.
“It’s just the fact that they get to compete,” Olsen said. “You get up a little bit for that.”
In addition to affordability, an effort is made to make the competition friendly to middle schools by arranging bands in such a way that the younger bands won’t be intimidated by larger bands or high school bands.
“They like coming here because it is more middle school friendly,” Olsen said.
The ultimate goal is to make the competition  a great experience for all.
“We try to make it a positive experience for everybody, including the audience,” Olsen said.