Marching for credit

Band students get PE class 'waiver'

Joining the band at Montezuma-Cortez High School is not a decision made lightly. It means committing to before-school rehearsals five days a week for nine weeks each semester - marching band in the fall and concert band in the spring.

Under a new policy, band students who stick with the program all four years will be exempt from taking a separate physical education class.

All M-CHS students need one full year of PE to graduate.

Veteran band director Rodney Ritthaler approached the school board last month and made his case for the exemption. For starters, other public schools - including in Grand Junction, Pueblo and Bayfield - have similar policies in place. He also said marching band participation demands enough exertion to satisfy the PE requirement.

"They sweat; they breathe hard. It takes physical endurance," Ritthaler said in an interview Thursday.

Finally, the change would free up time for band students to take another class of their choosing, either a core subject or elective.

The board members were supportive, although the idea did not ultimately require their approval. After consulting with the high school PE teachers, principal Jason Wayman authorized the change.

To qualify for the exemption, a senior student must have participated in band all four years. If so, marching band rehearsals in the fall are counted as an "independent study" PE credit, meaning the activity happens outside normal school hours. Then in the spring, the student takes an online health course monitored by Ritthaler, who said the curriculum will be identical to the in-school version.

Ritthaler clarified that the policy isn't a waiver, per se, because the students will still get a PE credit on their transcript signed off by the administration.

The policy will have no effect on band students who already took PE during their freshman, sophomore or junior years.

"I think it'll be great for everybody involved," he said. "It opens up the possibility of taking some other subject they wouldn't have time for otherwise."

The Marching Panthers have been a source of pride for M-CHS for many years. They were crowned 3A state champion in 2005, finished second in 2010 and 2011, and placed third in 2006 and 2009.

Ritthaler hopes the new policy attracts about a dozen students back to the band. Enrollment has taken a fairly precipitous dip, from 77-78 students the previous two years to 52 currently.