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Big Sound signings: Six Alcovy High School band members ink scholarships in ceremony
Alcovy Signings
Alcovy High School band instructor Brian Coates, far right, stands with six of his students who accepted college band scholarships during the school’s first band signing ceremony. - photo by Special Photo

COVINGTON, Ga. — Excuse Brian Coates if he looked like a proud papa on the stage in Alcovy High School’s auditorium Tuesday. 

Coates had at least six reasons to stick his chest out — or about $2.5 million, depending on how you look at it. That’s because the Alcovy Big Sound band director saw six of his students sign scholarship letters because of their musical prowess. 

Dan’Uel Sanders (snare drum, Alabama A&M), Paris Williams (trombone/drum major, Alabama A&M), Jada Dawson (snare drum, Fort Valley State), Diamond Weaver (trombone/drum major, Grambling State), Ausjah Willis (baritone/drum major, Alabama A&M) and Chasity Hill (alto sax/tuba Jackson State) all signed scholarships to play at a Historically Black College and University during a signing ceremony event that mimics what one might see when student-athletes ink letters of intent to play sports in college.

In all, the students received close to $2.5 million total in scholarship money. And for Coates, the inaugural event is something that’s been several years in the making. 

“This is definitely something that I’ve always wanted to do,” Coates said. “But I knew it was something we’d have to work our way to when I first came here. I had a list of priorities that started with instilling discipline in our students and then getting our students to build enough trust with me so I could be able to guide them into this and more. This event, as well as last year, you’re seeing the fruits of the hard work that we’ve been putting in since 2017.” 

That’s when Coates first arrived at Alcovy to take charge of the school’s band program. Coates began his teaching career in the Shelby County Schools system in Memphis, Tennessee for four years before finishing graduate school at the University of Alabama and teaching in a small community in Alabama for two years before arriving in Covington. 

Coates says the six students featured in Tuesday’s ceremony — he says there should be eight students in all accepting scholarships this year — is a telltale sign of how much the band program in Newton County’s youngest high school has evolved. 

“Overall, my experience has been very positive here,” Coates said. “When I arrived, I feel like we didn’t really have the drive that I wanted them to have in order to succeed, to be the best, to travel or to compete. I just took my time, tried to expose our students to as many opportunities and events as possible, and over the years, you could see how they were beginning to get the picture of where we wanted to go.” 

From 2018 through 2020, Coates saw just three of his students accept scholarships to play in college — one of those was his oldest son in 2019. Things began to gradually uptick in 2021 when he saw four from his first group of students he taught from freshman through senior year receive scholarships. 

The flood gates sort of opened a bit in 2022 when Alcovy’s band produced seven scholarship recipients. Then, as stated, this year Coates is expecting eight when it’s all said and done. 

Coates said it’s moments like these that matter most to him. 

“This is literally the most rewarding part of my job,” he said. “Seeing my students accept scholarships and get the chance to go on to play in college. We had a goal for each student getting at least five scholarship offers, and after the first ones came it just started pouring in after that.” 

Make no mistake about it: Cultivating an impressive sound from his band is of paramount importance. But Coates will rush to tell you that even that still pales in comparison to seeing students who will continue to play and compete collegiately. 

“For me, often times I feel like band directors tend to focus on the sound of the band and the accolades,” Coates said. “But often times, the students get overlooked in that. If you’re a top student in a top band, but that’s it, what happens to that student after that unless the band director takes time and effort to get them to the next level? That’s near and dear to me. 

“I don’t want you to just make me look good. I want you to be good and represent yourself as a student and a musician.” 

The first band signing ceremony was anything but a flash-in-the-pan event for Contest and Alcovy. Coates believes that the recent success for his program is just scratching the surface of what is to come. 

“I feel like this is just the beginning,” he said. “We’re just now seeing the fruits of the work that’s been put in over the years. This year we had more than $2.4 million in scholarships. I want to see that amount go up. I want to take this program to perform and compete across the nation so we can showcase this program to show the kind of talent at Alcovy, Covington, Newton County, and to represent our community well.”