The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

March 9, 2010

Lancers ready for fresh start

New director a move ‘in a positive direction’

MANKATO — Finally, the Mankato Area 77 Lancers can return to the business of fielding a top-notch competitive marching band.

Last week, the Lancers announced the hiring of Centennial High School band director Michael Hench as its director for the upcoming season.

Those who interviewed the four finalists for the position said they were impressed with Hench’s experience and collected demeanor. They spoke glowingly of his references at Centennial High School and at Pipestone Area Public Schools, where he taught previously and directed bands that received numerous accolades. And it didn’t hurt that in 2009, Hench was named Minnesota’s Distinguished Band Director of the Year.

“He really came to the top,” said Joan Eisenreich, director of Mankato’s Community Education and Recreation program. “He had a lot of background in things we were looking for.”

But Hench’s hire also signifies a fresh start for a program that has, for months, operated under the shadow of allegations of sexual misconduct with a student by Tedd Gullickson, the recently resigned band instructor at Mankato West who directed the Lancers from 1986 to 2009.

Dawn Juberien, president of the Lancers parent board, said she has held many conversations with concerned parents and community members about the future of the student marching band during the last several weeks. She said Hench is “everything we were looking for” and is confident he’s the right leader for a difficult transition.

“We’ve all been kind of in mourning,” Juberien said. “It’s been a process. ... But now, we’re at a point where we can start making steps in a positive direction.”

For Hench’s part, he said he navigated a similar situation earlier in his career. At the time, he was directing the summer marching band at his alma mater — Albert Lea High School — while its director was addressing similar allegations of misconduct.

He said he is aware of the Lancers situation and added that he wants to work with students and parents to address any concerns.

“It does create unique challenges,” Hench said. “I want to be sensitive to students and parents and what they are thinking.”

Hench’s experience with Lancers goes back to his boyhood days when his father organized an annual band festival in Albert Lea where the Lancers were regular participants. He also competed against the Lancers during his own competition days with his high school’s summer marching band.

In Pipestone schools, Hench spent eight years directing a music program for grades 5-12. As the band director at Centennial, he leads several music groups, including the marching band and several performance ensembles. Bands under his leadership have been invited to play in events across the United States.

Hench called marching band an “art form” and said he is enthusiastic about directing a group of musicians consistently recognized as among the finest in the state. He said he is not planning any major changes to the marching band this season and already has begun meeting with parents and instructors.

“The Lancers have a great reputation,” Hench said, adding later: “I’m excited to come down and get to work.”

Hench was hired on a one-year contract and will receive a stipend of $4,700. He officially assumes duties April 1.

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