Bainbridge band director Paschal Ward announces retirement after 33 years

Published 4:57 pm Friday, March 9, 2018

The two most important words in the English language to Bainbridge band director Paschal Ward are “mother” and “teacher”.

Both are 24-7 jobs, and both have a responsibility to shape and develop young minds.

After 33 years at Bainbridge, Ward will retire this June. He hopes that as a teacher he has done his duty to grow the next generation of students into a workforce that can carry this world forward.

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“I tried to help students to grow and mature and do the right thing,” Ward said.

After working for 12 years in Alabama as band director at various schools, Ward was called by Bobby Trawick, then the principal at Bainbridge High School, to interview for the band director job. Ward declined. He was called again, and he declined again. The third time, Ward said Trawick threw the keys across the desk into his lap.

Ward agreed and put on the purple and gold in 1985. The band had about 47 members in it, a puny budget and low morale, he recalled. Ward was determined to fix that.

“I think it was my first year, we played all the big schools,” Ward said. “I’d go out with this little marching band among all those big bands. One day I asked the students in that band, ‘What’s the difference between you guys and the ones in Valdosta?’ That was kind of the turning point.”

As the size of the band grew, so did the budget, and opportunities to travel and perform in venues all across the country came with it. In the 1990s, the Bearcat Band had gone on a trip to New York City. While Ward visited the Empire State Building, the majority of the band shopped in Macy’s Department Store. He headed over to check on everybody when he was finished.

“I wasn’t there very long and these guys in red coats came and asked if I was Mr. Ward,” Ward said, terrified that one of the students had gotten into serious trouble. “We go in the elevator and we go upstairs. I get up there and one of the NBC producers was sitting behind a desk and wanted to know if we would play on the Today Show. That was amazing.”

Ward doesn’t remember what song they played, but the memory is one he’ll never forget.

Giving kids the opportunity to leave Decatur County, some of whom have never traveled farther than the county line, is one of Ward’s favorite parts of the job. Those trips create bonding experiences, ones that will strengthen the band’s performances in the long run. He also praised the parents of the students and his wife for being supportive.

“It’s a tremendous opportunity to get to watch them to grow,” Ward said. “To me, music comes second. Learning to be a first class citizen is the first thing.”

There are lots of ways Ward likes to help grow his students into those first class citizens he describes. Sometimes it’s long hours of rehearsing in the sun to get the songs just right. Other times its personally mentoring them, helping them overcome their struggles.

He loves his sayings, though, and there’s one that particularly sticks out to him, one that he uses often: shoot for the moon, maybe you’ll hit the streetlight.

“If you’re shooting for the moon, you may hit that streetlight rather than the moon, but you haven’t stayed where you were,” Ward said. “You’ve improved.”

It’s a little silly, and Ward knows it. The message is clear, though. Don’t give up, get better every day and work hard.

“Keep working, keep trying,” Ward said. “You might go farther than the streetlight.”