T-shirts worn by the Smith-Cotton High School band have evolved into controversy among parents.
The shirts, which were designed to promote the band’s fall program, are light gray and feature an image of a monkey progressing through stages and eventually emerging as a man. Each figure holds a brass instrument. Several instruments decorate the background and the words “Smith-Cotton High School Tiger Pride Marching Band” and “Brass Evolutions 2009” are emblazoned above and below the image.
Assistant Band Director Brian Kloppenburg said the shirts were designed by him, Band Director Jordan Summers and Main Street Logo. Kloppenburg said the shirts were intended to portray how brass instruments have evolved in music from the 1960s to modern day. Summers said they chose the evolution of man because it was “recognizable.” The playlist of songs the band is slated to perform revolve around the theme “Brass Evolutions.”
The band debuted the T-shirts when it marched in the Missouri State Fair parade. Summers said he was surprised when he received a direct complaint after the parade.
While the shirts don’t directly violate the district’s dress code, Assistant Superintendent Brad Pollitt said complaints by parents made him take action.
“I made the decision to have the band members turn the shirts in after several concerned parents brought the shirts to my attention,” Pollitt said.
Pollitt said the district is required by law to remain neutral where religion is concerned.
“If the shirts had said ‘Brass Resurrections’ and had a picture of Jesus on the cross, we would have done the same thing,” he said.
Band parent Sherry Melby, who is a teacher in the district, stands behind Pollitt’s decision. Melby said she associated the image on the T-shirt with Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.
“I was disappointed with the image on the shirt.” Melby said. “I don’t think evolution should be associated with our school.”
Parent Alena Hoeffling said she is infuriated with administration’s decision to pull the attire.
“Whatever happened to the separation of church and state,” she said.
Hoeffling said she is both a scientific person and a practicing Catholic and enjoyed the “play on words.”
“I thought it was funny,” she said. “I didn’t think much of it.”
However, the T-shirt’s imagery became a hot topic at a recent TIMPO (band booster) meeting. Hoeffling said that’s where she learned the evolution T-shirts were causing a stir.
“Parents were informed the shirts had to be turned in,” Hoeffling said. “I couldn’t believe it.”
Hoeffling said she enrolled her children in public school so they could have choices.
“If I wanted my children to be sheltered, I would have enrolled them in private school,” she said.
On Friday afternoon after practice, band members piled the shirts on a table. While most were apathetic about the shirts, others felt the drama surrounding the shirts was unwarranted.
“It’s not like we are saying God is bad,” sophomore band member Denyel Luke said. “We aren’t promoting evolution.”
High School junior Adam Tilley said he understood why the shirts were repossessed.
“I can see where the parents are coming from,” he said. “Evolution has always been controversial.” The 17-year-old trombone player said his parents “didn’t care” about the shirt because it was the “name of the band’s show.”
Senior Drum Major Mike Howard said he was disappointed when he had to return the shirt.
“I liked the shirt because it was unique,” Howard said. “The theory of evolution never even crossed my mind.”
While Howard was discouraged when he wasn’t given a choice whether to wear the shirt, he said he wouldn’t want to offend anyone. “Our fans are the community,” he said.
Summers said a new T-shirt is currently in the design stages, but declined to comment on the image.
“It has to be approved first,” he said.
Pollitt said the district would now have to absorb the cost of the T-shirts — $700 — that would have been paid for by the band parents. Pollitt said an anonymous donor had originally planned to pay half the cost, but declined after the evolution image was placed on the shirts. However, the donor does plan to fund half the price of the new T-shirts.
Sedalia School District 200 Board of Education member Michael Stees said it was unfortunate the T-shirt design was misconceived and he hopes the band can just move forward.
“This is an exciting time for the band,” Stees said. “They don’t need any negativity.”
Pollitt said the band’s new shirts would be approved by the activities director and administration before being printed.
“We support whatever steps the school district has to take,” Summers said.