There’s no denying the “proud tradition” that defines Brandon’s first high school, its tradition deeply rooted in its precursor, the Brandon School, which opened in 1914 for students in grades 1 through 12.
today sports hallways full of trophies and remembrances of the passage of time, with two special moments in February adding to both the lore and the lure of the school on Victoria Street.
On Feb. 18, the school’s wrestling team, which broke the record books with a 34-year winning streak that ended in 2008, took home its 23rd state title, .
One week later, another Brandon High tradition took center stage, and to that joyus occasion came Eagles young and old, ready to hear what has become of the Hillsborough County School District’s first-ever school orchestra.
Started by T. Edison James in the 1966-67 school year, the orchestra has also been led by Lonnie Keen (1970-72), Linda Groh (1972-2003) and Donald Langland, who succeeded Groh and conducted the orchestra for its Sapphire Celebration on Feb. 25.
“There’s a proud tradition at this school, they really have a first-class program, one of the best in the state,” said Ross Chinander, a booster parent. “They have a long history of really high-quality music.”
What’s it like to be performing with an orchestra founded 45 years ago, the first in the school district, in a school that in two years celebrates its precursor's 100th anniversary?
“It’s cool,” said one musician, who heard the question as she passed in the hallway with a group of orchestra students before the celebratory performance.
And so it is with youth, whose sense of history is much less-defined than that of their elders, for whom the connection of a school to its town has taken on a deeper significance.
Or maybe it was just the randomness of the question, coming during a brisk walk, that begged a quick response.
A deeper perspective came from viola player Brett Chinander, who with her mother nearby gave her view on the night’s significance:
“I don’t think it will hit me until I get out on stage and think, ‘Oh my gosh, what’s happening? It’s 45 years! And that it’s happening in my senior year makes it all that much more exciting,” Chinander said.
Leading up to the Sapphire Celebration was a pancake breakfast at Beef O' Brady's on Kings Avenue.
The award-winning orchestra, led by the Langland, the school district's Secondary Music Educator of the Year in 2001, has since 2003 earned superior ratings at national competitions.
Another Brandon High accomplishment for the books.
"We're living the dream right now," said principal Carl Green. "This is just the tip of the iceberg."
Among the many Eagles returning for the Sapphire Celebration was Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Earl Lennard, who graduated from Brandon in 1960. Lennard entered the school system as a first-grader and retired from the school system in 2005, as the superintendent of schools.
"There's been generations of people who have graduated from the same school," he said. "T. Edison James is a legend in Hillsborough County as a musician. He was the supervisor of music for quite some time and he passed away recently. I think he would have been very pleased and satisfied to know that the program he and others put in place still exists today."
Count among those appreciative Eagles Chinander herself, who gave high marks and high honor to two men who held the same job some 40 years apart.
"Mr. Langland is one of the best teachers I've ever had," she said. "He's taught me so much in my four years here. So much more than orchestra. He's taught me how to prepare myself for the real world."
As for the 45 years of history, Chinander said she and her fellow musicians were "pumped" to perform.
"We want to honor T. Edison for starting this wonderful orchestra," she said. "Hopefully they'll still be here 45 years from now."