Giant, musical blueberries. That's how Kelso High School band director Craig Gustafson described his band students when they were dressed in their old marching uniforms.
But this year, with help from the school's band booster club and a few district officials, the band is marching in style with new duds for the first time since 1994.
Gustafson said the worn-down, wool uniforms were patched up numerous times throughout the years, and it was difficult finding enough jackets and pants to fit all students. Middle and large sizes sustained the most wear and tear. Only one uniform — the smallest size available — was in pristine condition, because it couldn't fit any students. Amelia Longbons, the band's drum majorette, said she had one thought when she first encountered the old uniforms the first time as a freshman.
"I can't believe I have to wear this," the junior said.
Senior, Travis Hazel, one of three section leaders, said the uniforms were so "old and nasty" that fans took little notice of the band.
"It was like we weren't acknowledged for being there," Hazel said.
During the last three years, the school district pledged $15,000 toward 80 new uniforms. Last year, the band's booster club and parent volunteers helped raised the final $26,000. They hosted raffles, bingo nights, and sought community sponsorships. Lisa Whitman, a parent volunteer who was involved in the fundrasing, said the two biggest donors were the Kelso Rotary and Eagles clubs.
"It was really awesome," Whitman said. "These kids are just as much a part of the school as any athletic team or academic club. They need to look just as sharp, too."
The uniforms are lighter and fit better. The school's tartan is featured in a pattern across the front of each jacket. The shakos (hats) have removable plumes, which are carefully protected in plastic bags when they're not in use.
Gustafson said it took a year to design, fit and manufacture the new uniforms. The student band leaders narrowed down the possible designs. These new uniforms will last about 10 years.
"When the students tried on the uniforms for the first time, they were really excited," Gustafson said. "Ours uniforms are completely tailored to us."
When the uniforms officially debuted about two weeks ago at Kelso's first home football game, band members say people took notice.
"It's like we're valued more at the games and have something to offer," said senior, Breana Higgins, a band section leader. "People pay a lot more attention to us now. The band has more confidence and seems to play a lot better, too."