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Milton High marching band competes days after assistant director's sudden death


On the day after the loss of their beloved longtime assistant director John Schroeder, Milton High School’s 111-member marching band placed third with an emotional performance at the Wisconsin School Music Association’s annual Marching Band Championships on Saturday.

According to a message posted by the Milton High School Band Facebook group, Schroeder collapsed at band practice Thursday night with an unknown medical condition and was unable to be revived after being taken to the hospital. Prior to Saturday’s event, the band was given the option to forgo the competition in light of their assistant director’s recent death.

For the members of the band, however, that was not an option. Kyla Swanson, a senior who plays tenor drum on the drum line, said the tragedy only strengthened the group’s resolve.

“We knew we were going to perform, even after John passed, because we knew this is what he would have wanted,” she said.

Fresh off the heels of a successful showing at the Sauk Prairie Marching Band Invitational on Wednesday, Oct. 13, MHS musicians rallied behind the devastating news and gave an inspiring performance at the state championship in Whitewater that earned them 77.175 points out of a possible 100.

As the band took to the field, members—all donning black and white ribbons on their uniforms—took a knee in solidarity and observed a brief pause before the opening number. First on the three-song set was the quintessential “Bohemian Rhapsody” by the rock band Queen, followed by Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence.” Concluding the show was a radiant display by the color guard during a rendition of Coldplay’s “Paradise.”

Aided by the effects of a smoke machine, KayLea Jacobson, a sophomore playing the vibraphone, helped set the mood.

Jacobson said she felt centered during the set, despite the harrowing news.

“We were very present and put a lot of emotion into it,” she said. Along with her bandmates, Jacobson wanted this to be her very best show.

Hayden Wrolstad, a senior trumpet player, said Schroeder would have been “elated” by the outcome.

“His impact isn’t big enough for words and I owe a lot, as the person I am today, to him,” Wrolstad said. “(From) coming in as a freshman as this annoying squeaky little kid that couldn’t stand still to what I am now, I owe it almost pretty much all to him.”

Band director Nathan Czech, who joined Milton’s marching band program in June, commended the student musicians for their composure and resiliency in preparation for the competition.

“They’ve really come together,” Czech said, adding that members of Milton’s community were “incredibly supportive” as well. “They take incredible pride in what they do.”

According to Czech, the band’s execution of its set, which Schroeder helped curate, would have made the former director proud—especially the ballad “Sound of Silence.” He said the song had “a really powerful movement” in their repertoire.

“I think it’s even gotten stronger in light of just the emotional roller coaster,” Czech said the band experienced over the previous few days.

“In comparison to last night’s rehearsal, this was a great show,” he said. “I think John would have felt really great about this show.”

Anthony Wahl 

The Milton marching band enters Perkins Stadium in Whitewater on Saturday to compete in the 36th Annual State Marching Band Championships. Just two days prior, Milton’s assistant director John Schroeder collapsed at the end of a practice and was unable to be revived.

Meredith Lea Jacobson, KayLea’s mother, choked up while describing the courage it took for the students to decide to perform. She, too, felt Schroeder would have wanted the band to compete in his absence. As the band’s color guard instructor and a close friend of Schroeder’s for more than 26 years, Jacobson testified to her friend’s devotion to the marching band.

“He would have told them to get out and do their job, and that’s exactly what they did,” Jacobson said.

Schroeder’s son Alex, fighting back tears, said, “They played with passion and that was one of his biggest things.”

Although Saturday’s third-place result was not the highest ranking earned by Milton’s marching band—they placed second in 2019—Jacobson said it was their most emotional performance.

She said Schroeder was always more concerned with how passionate the performances were than any marks they received.

“He didn’t care what the judges said. All he wanted to do was feel the music,” she said, adding, “The marching band community lost a great man.”

Anthony Wahl 

Members of the Milton marching band wore black and white ribbons in remembrance of assistant director John Schroeder while competing Saturday in the 36th Annual State Marching Band Championships. Just two days prior, Schroeder collapsed at the end of a practice and was unable to be revived.

Current and former band members reflected on Schroeder’s inspiring nature and how his passion imparted a love of music upon them they will carry on indefinitely.

“John (made) a huge impact in my life and he’s the one who got me started in drum line and loving drums and learning how to play them. He was a huge impact in my musical career,” Swanson said.

While Schroeder was not able to take in the competition and cheer on his band, his spirit and the impact he impressed upon others was apparent. Opposing fans from other high schools gave standing ovations. During Czech’s post-performance speech in the parking lot, there was not a dry eye in the crowd.

Schroeder will be remembered for having “the biggest heart” and his passion for working with the students knew no bounds, Czech said.

Janesville to see slight increase in school funding from state

The Janesville School District will receive a small increase in the amount of funding it receives from the state for this school year, according to Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction data released Friday.

Statewide, the majority of general school aid is equalization aid. Equalization aid is distributed according to a formula designed to help Wisconsin communities provide public education despite differences in property wealth. The formula considers school district expenditures, property values and resident student counts.

Janesville will receive 2.79% more this school year over the previous one, raising the total amount coming from the state to $66.5 million from $64.7 million.

General school aid is the largest form of state support for public schools in the state. State equalization aid is meant to make up the difference between a district’s actual tax base and the state guaranteed tax base.

Among other area school districts:

  • Milton will get about $1.8 million more this year than last, a 7.91% increase for a total of $23.9 million, up from $22.1 million in the 2020-21 school year.
  • Edgerton’s increase will be just a shade over $1 million, a 9.16% increase to $12.8 million from $11.7 million.
  • The Evansville School District will get $862,162 more, a 6.68% jump to $13.8 million from $12.9 million.
  • Elkhorn is due for a 6.45% increase of $1 million for a total of $17.3 million in state aid. That total is up from $16.2 million in 2020-21.
  • The Delavan-Darien School District will get $1.6 million more, a 13.47% increase to $13.4 million from $11.8 million.
  • The Beloit Turner School District will receive 5.19% more in state aid, an increase of $483,159. Turner received $9.3 million last year and is set to receive $9.7 million for the 2021-22 school year.
  • The Clinton Community School District will receive 5.44% more in state aid, an increase of $390,717. Clinton received $7.1 last year and is set to receive $7.5 for the 2021-22 school year.
  • The Parkview School District will receive 19% more in state aid, an increase of $1.03 million. Parkview received $5.4 million last year, and is set to receive $6.4 million for the 2021-22 school year.

Wisconsin’s total public school headcount for the third Friday of September 2021 was 813,448, a decline of 0.6% from September 2020. 4K and preschool special education head counts rebounded with a 6.8% increase from last year, and kindergarten head count increased slightly by 0.5%. First through 12th grades—where Wisconsin’s mandatory school attendance laws apply—were down 1.2%.

Statewide, 272 Wisconsin school districts saw an increase in state aid while 144 districts saw a decrease. Five districts reported no change in aid for the 2021-22 school year. A total of $196.4 million will be allocated to Wisconsin schools for the school year, according to DPI.

Obituaries and death notices for Oct. 18, 2021

Patricia “Pat” A. Bailer

Samantha K. Bender

Pamela L. “Pam” (Merchant) Clark

Michael J. Darre

Frank T. Drohner II

George W. Grundy

James E. “Jim” Jacobson

Ruth “Joan” Lyke

Jim Navin

Michael Raiche

Kenneth Rowley

John Theron Schroeder

Alan Edward Smith

Wesley R. Stibbe

Richard L. “Rick” Swinconos

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Experts see parallels to 1987, 2011 in dry weather of 2021

In a year marred by stretches of historically dry weather and less-than-average precipitation, the drought of 2021 is causing farmers and meteorologists alike to draw comparisons to previous major droughts in 2012 and 1988. Although farmers have yet to feel any significant effects from this year’s dry spells, there is concern about what might come next.

In the late 1980s, Wisconsin’s statewide rainfall deficit caused more than $900 million in drought-related crop losses. Rock County experienced deficits for eight months in 1988, with the year ending 5.17 inches below the county’s average annual rainfall, according to historical data provided by the city of Janesville’s Wastewater Utility Office.

Nick Baker, a former agriculture educator for UW Extension in Rock County, still discusses the 1988 drought with local farmers but said many don’t think 2021 stacks up with the drought in the late 1980s.

“This summer reminded a lot of people of 1987,” Baker said in reference to the season leading up to the drought the next year.

Although 1988 saw extreme temperatures, Ben Miller, the observation program leader at the National Weather Service office in Sullivan, said summer 1989 was actually drier and left a larger rain deficit, leading to the region’s net precipitation levels spiraling in the years to follow. Miller provided The Gazette data for the droughts of 1988 and 2012 and gave commentary on the significance of each year.

1988’s rain deficit was just a start

Further compounding the drought, May 1988 started a running rain deficit the region did not recover from until mid-1993. During that time, southeastern Wisconsin saw 61 consecutive months of insufficient rainfall, with total deficits periodically reaching more than 15 inches.

Despite normal precipitation during the warm seasons of 1990 to 1992, the annual deficits lingered. Finally, from July 1992 to June 1993, a rain surplus of nearly 20 inches brought Rock County out of the red.

2012 sees ‘flash drought’

After nearly two decades of relatively normal rain patterns marked by offsetting record-setting totals in 2002 and 2008, spring 2011 set the stage for another period of devastatingly dry weather culminating in a catastrophic drought in 2012.

Miller used the term “flash drought” to describe the impact of 2012’s weather, noting a spell of dry weather combined with soaring temperatures. From June 2011 into May 2013, Rock County saw spikes in deficits reaching nearly 13 inches, and temperatures rose to unseasonably levels from the outset. Data from that time shows May and June alone saw 14 days of 90-degree readings, followed by a warm fall and winter.

Doug Rebout, president of the Wisconsin Corn Growers Association and partner at the Rebout and Sons Farm, recalled the burned crops and barren hillsides in 2012 that characterized an unprecedented year of dryness.

“You’d look on the hills and there would be nothing there,” he said.

Farmers in the area lost more than 50% of their crops that year. A state of emergency was declared, which at one point warranted water diversions from lakes and streams to facilitate irrigation.

Alarms not ringing—yet

Rebout said such images have largely been avoided this year thanks to advances in crop genetics and other practices that helped farmers better handle this year’s dry spell. He expects the harvest yields will indicate a good year for crop production.

“The farmers are feeling a little bit more optimistic because they weren’t seeing those burnt-up crops like in 2012,” he said.

Even though 2021 hasn’t inflicted catastrophic damage on crops in Rock County, the summer was the seventh driest on record in 127 years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s drought monitor.

To date, the county is running an 8.3-inch rain deficit. Baker said recent rainfalls are being absorbed into the soil seemingly as fast as raindrops hit the ground.

“As I talk to farmers, they go, ‘Yeah, we got 2 inches of rain the other day, and I don’t have any puddles anywhere on my farm soaking it up.’ It’s because we’re that dry,” he said.

What is making 2021’s drought more bearable has been the wetter-than-normal spring of 2020 and a four-year span prior to that of the wettest weather in the Janesville wastewater utility office’s records. All that precipitation resulted in a rain surplus of 43.23 inches accumulating from 2016 to 2019.

But much of that cushion has evaporated in 2021, and Baker said the rest of 2021 and early 2022 need to be wet to avoid starting next year’s planting season behind the eight ball.

“If we don’t get adequate rain this fall and the next spring, we’re going into the next year with a deficit. And that’s when trouble can strike quickly,” he said.

Whether this comes to fruition remains to be seen, though Rebout and Baker remain optimistic. As farmers, their job isn’t to constantly worry about what precipitation might come but rather wait and see what nature doles out.

“It’s so hard to predict the future because no one has that crystal ball, (but) it’s always in the back of everyone’s mind,” Baker said. “Nobody is pulling the alarm yet, but they have their hand on it.”