Empty promises: Burrton band left high and dry by Wichita Force

Members of the Burrton High School pep band play during a recent football game. The band has been waiting over two years to receive $4,000 in prize money it was promised by the Wichita Force for winning the Battle of the Bands in 2019. Pictured students include, top row, Dante Young, Madison Kirk, Katy Fletchall, lower row, Colton Robinson, alumnus Will McMurry and Kamara Head.

By Jared Janzen

BURRTON—In June of 2019, the Burrton High School competed in a Battle of the Bands halftime competition sponsored by the Wichita Force indoor football team. Against the odds, the small 1A school won first place, which came with a prize of $4,000.

More than two years later, Burrton has yet to see a single penny of its prize money.

“I’ve been emailing them and a lot of times they don’t return my emails, but when they do, they say, ‘Oh yeah, we’re going to pay you. We intend to pay you,’” Burrton band director Mark Robinson said.

Robinson estimated between himself and the Burrton secretary, they’ve reached out to the Force at least 20 times over the past two years. The last he heard from the Force, he was invited to the final home game of the season on June 26, to receive a check at halftime.

“Then a couple days before the game, they said, ‘Oh well, halftime is full and we don’t have time for you. We’ll mail it,” Robinson said.

That was three months ago and he still hasn’t received the check.

In the past week, Harvey County Now has left multiple voicemails at the Force’s office, as well as with managing partner Jeff Martin. The Now has also emailed the Force’s marketing/sales executive and reached out to the team through its website. As of press time, none of those messages had been responded to.

“I think they’re just thinking Burrton is a small little school and they can just get away with not paying us and nothing will ever happen,” Robinson said. “Nobody will ever really know.”

Another part of the problem, he thought, could be turnover in the Force’s staff. He’s dealt with three school liaisons in that time frame.

“The person that was there two years ago is not there anymore and there’s been two other people since, I believe. At least one other person,” Robinson said.

He’s tried a lot of different things over the past two years, like reaching out to former assistant coach Rick Lee for help, as well as several donors that he’s found online.

“One of them sent my email to one of the owners and another has tried to get in contact with them, but still, I haven’t heard back from them since before June 26,” Robinson said.

Robinson has also tried phone calls, on one occasion letting all his students listen in on speakerphone.

“I’m not sure if they even have the money to pay us,” Robinson said. “Maybe that’s the problem. I’m not sure.”

Burrton isn’t alone in this predicament. Second place in the Battle of the Bands went to Clearwater High School, which was promised a $1,000 prize. But director Derrick Hibler Jr.—who used to teach band at Halstead—said they haven’t seen any money, either. Most recently, he tried emailing the Force in mid-August and never got a response.

Like Robinson, Hibler said he’s been told the Force would mail the money, but it has never come.

For Hibler, receiving the prize money would mean closure to what has become a frustrating situation.

“It would mean they honored their word to our students,” he said. “They gave up some nights to practice and go perform, as well as some of their summertime to do this. We used some of our resources to make it possible for them.”

Hibler pointed out that bands have to spend their activity money to do things like marching festivals, competitions, reward days and trips.

“The students deserve what they earned to apply it towards what they want to do,” Hibler said. “They only get one chance in high school.”

Robinson noted that the Battle of the Bands had been a one-time competition back in 2019. Only four schools had entered, with Lyons and Haysville being the other two. Burrton and Clearwater attended Force games on two different nights for the halftime competition.

“I think what they were hoping was they would get bands from all over Wichita and surrounding areas to get tons of fans in there,” he said. “Well, it didn’t happen. There were only four bands that ended up being involved. It kind of backfired on them, but still, they promised us the money.”

If Robinson ever does receive the prize money, he said they would spend it on some much-needed instruments, like a new piccolo and repairing drums.

“I could spend it pretty quickly, but we don’t have it,” he said.

Almost 50 percent of his students use instruments provided by the school.

“We’re from a fairly low-income area and a lot of kids just can’t afford to be in band—and they wouldn’t be in band—unless we furnished an instrument,” he said. “We’ve got to spend money each year getting them refurbished so they’re ready for the next year. It’s an expensive program.”

Burrton has about 20 students in its high school band, 19 in its middle school band and six kids in the fifth grade band. All six of those fifth graders use school instruments, so Robinson said he wouldn’t be able to have that class without school provided instruments.

At this point, Robinson is willing to compromise.

“If they would just admit they don’t have the funds to pay us and say they’ll give us what they can, I would be disappointed, but I would be happy that at least they tried,” he said. “But they’re not even trying.”

Hibler said the Force needs to do what is right and pay what they owe.

“The Wichita Force has made it clear they do not care about our students,” Hibler said. “They think it is a couple of directors calling and emailing them about some money, but we are fighting for our students and our programs. It is a good fight for justice.”

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