Hernando High School is the 2018 MHSAA/Mississippi Bandmasters Association 6A Marching Band State Champion. This is the third time this band has earned this title, also winning in 2014 and in 2015.
Len Killough, the band director at Hernando High for seven years, also team teaches band at Hernando Middle School. He has taught his 27 seniors since 7th grade.
"These students know me and know my expectations before they come to the high school,” Killough said. “I am kind of gruff. I want every student to be the best they can be.”
To move this band to state competition in Pearl last Saturday took four charter buses, an 18-wheeler (driver and truck property of TNT Trucking), and three trailers—a total of 8 vehicles.
"All the DCS bands are fantastic,” Killough said. “All are doing a great job. Dennis Cox, the band director at DeSoto Central High, was the first person to walk over and congratulate me after our win. Kim Hallmark, band director at the 5A State Champion Lewisburg High, is one of my former students. We support each other. All of the band directors are close.
"One of the greatest statistics about the DCS band programs is that 100 percent of our band students are offered band scholarships at the state universities," he said. “This says a lot about the band programs at DeSoto County Schools.”
The name of his award winning show was "Fleeting Bloom: The Life of a Cherry Blossom.” The music was written by Julie Giroux of Madison and featured her symphony, "Postcards from Japan."
Killough is quick to tell you the 6A state championship is not about him however, adding, “This has been a crazy year.”
Currently, he is president of the Mississippi Bandmasters, the state organization for all Mississippi bands. Hernando won the Bandmasters Grand Championship in Memphis, a title that Munford, Tenn. High School had held for more than 20 years.
On a lighter note, Killough was recorded standing in front of a sprinkler during a competition to protect his flag girls from getting wet. The video got more than two million hits on Facebook and the video was shown on "The Today Show" and "The Tonight Show." Talk show host Jimmy Fallon said, "This is a great example of a servant leader."
Killough said he takes great pride how this group of 156 students represent Hernando High at all performances.
"Our kids are complementary of other bands and clap and root for them,” he said. “They congratulate other competitors. I am constantly told how respectful they are of other teams."
Killough is originally from Booneville and was a senior offensive tackle on his football team when they went 11-0 to become state champions. His football coach and band director allowed him to play football and march with the band at halftime, wearing his football pads and carrying his trombone. Killough allows Hernando football players to do the same.
Producing an award-winning production started in December 2017 and demanded a year-long effort. Band camp lasted two weeks in July and often required 14-hour days at work, from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m., except on Wednesdays and Sundays when Killough serves at the choir director at Gracewood Baptist Church.
"My wife (Allyson Killough, principal of Career Tech Center-West) allows me to live my dreams," he said.
Killough is an operatic tenor and has a double major from Delta State University in instrument and vocal education. He earned his Master's degree from Ole Miss and a Master’s degree in administration from Arkansas State University.
Killough says he "tries to make sure that band is about the experiences they have and not the number of trophies."
Assistant band directors are Victoria Jones, Joe Quinnelly, and Tyler Harris. "We set students up to do well,” Killough said. “They do all the work."