For 25 years she has kept Hibriten band looking snappy

Sep. 04, 2014 @ 06:01 AM

In the belly of Hibriten High School, Dottie Darsie moved through the band supply room Wednesday among a plethora of red and black uniforms with gold buttons. On a table before her, paperwork, cream-colored cloth belts, dull silver belt buckles and her trusty sewing kit were all within arm’s reach.

Three band students stood still for her as she loosened suspenders, tugged on belts and placed hats on the students’s heads. After 25 years of volunteering as Hibriten High School’s band uniform caretaker, Darsie has her system down pat.

“Over the years, I’ve developed a really good system, and it works, and they (the administration) just think I’m going to keep doing it forever,” Darsie said, smiling.

Darsie started caring for the uniforms in 1989, when her first child was in Hibriten’s band. She continued volunteering through the high school years of her other two children and enjoyed working with the students and being involved with the school so much that she did not stop.

“Being around young people is always a lot of fun, and I believe so strongly that the arts just enrich us as people,” Darsie said.

Darsie keeps every uniform tagged and labeled. The hats have name tags slipped inside, are kept in boxes and stored in cubbyholes with the student’s assigned number. The uniforms are hung on racks tagged with the each hat's corresponding number. Darsie has 125 uniforms to choose from to make sure each student has the right fit. However, she said, it can be tough to make it work when there are many tall or short students any given year.

"We’ve learned a lot through the years on how to be organized and everything like that,” Darsie said.

When Darsie started, Hibriten was using a different set of uniforms. Those lasted 30 years before being replaced 10 years ago. Back then, Darsie was constantly mending uniforms.

“Seams split. Buttons fell off,” Darsie said, laughing.

Once, at a conference in Winston-Salem, one of the boys raised his arms over his head in a long stretch, and the back of his jacket split down the middle.

“I always travel with my sewing kit, so I said, ‘OK, Michael, take your jacket off. Give it to me.’ So, I sat down in the lobby and stitched up the back seam,” Darsie said. “Well, there were a couple of band directors from different counties who asked our band director if they could adopt me. He said, ‘No, we need her too much.’ I’ve had lots of exciting adventures.”

The jacket and pants in both the previous and current uniforms were modeled after the Queen’s Royal Guard in England. The old uniforms even had tall, fuzzy, black hats. The current uniforms are still the same Hibriten red, but the hats now are like those worn by U.S. Marines, white with gold eagles on the front. The uniforms are made mostly of wool mixed with polyester, which keeps the students warm on chilly fall and winter nights but can leave them broiling in the summer, so the students go without their uniforms for the first few home games.

Even after 25 years, Darsie said, she has no desire to retire from being like a mother Panther of band uniforms just yet.

“I like being with students, and I think that band is just one of the neatest things you can do,” Darsie said. "Since I've been sewing most of my life, my daughter volunteered me, and the rest is history."