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Rhythm and passion drive Spartan Thunder success

Something’s different about Smithfield-Selma High School’s drumline, and it’s got people buzzing. For Percussion Director Justin Holmes what makes his drumline special is simple -- passion.

“Whenever I look at other drumlines, I see them. They're physically playing, but they don't seem like they're enjoying it,” Holmes said. “Our guys just absolutely love it. They're just crazy about it.”

The school’s drumline, now dubbed the Spartan Thunder, has been around for about as long as anyone can remember. Chance Roland, a junior in drumline, said he was partly inspired to join because his father marched in the drumline when he attended Smithfield-Selma in the ‘80s.

“Seeing how competitive and how passionate they work towards what they do is interesting,” Roland said. “And I wanted to do it so, I tried it.”


While the Smithfield-Selma High drumline has been around for a while, both Roland and Holmes said it began to rise to the next level upon the arrival of current band director Brian Jones. However, Roland says it was Holmes who brought the drumline to where it is today.

“It’s because of Justin, really how he integrates what we say,” Roland said. “We might add a dance to the middle of a show at the last minute. He will let us change something just because someone wanted to add a dance they saw someone do. Dances, flips, and things like that can be put in at a moment's notice. It’s all just really based around us as individuals. He likes it the way that we like it.”

Those flips and dances Roland mentioned are what helps set the drumline apart. Every performance is a mix of dance, pre-recorded mix tracks, flips, spins, acting, and of course drumming.

“I'll talk to the kids because I'm kind of old,” Holmes, who is in his late 20’s, said. “I talk to the kids to find out what’s cool and popular right now, and then we can put in the show. Then from there I just kind of put it all together. I think that it makes them really excited for it because it's stuff that they've come up with.”

Holmes, a 2008 graduate of Smithfield-Selma High, has been writing for the drumline for the past four years. In addition to using his students’ ideas, much of his writings have been inspired by the style of West Carolina’s, his alma mater, marching band.

“They write really based off the music. Justin takes what the rest of the band is playing and adapts it for the drumline,” Roland said. “He adds some parts to make it where we have a unique sound as a drumline.”

But Roland and Holmes both agree the secret sauce that makes the whole thing work is the familial-like culture the group’s passion has fostered.

“A lot of drumlines are made up of friends, but I like to think that we get along on a different type of level,” said Roland. “We pretty much call each other family. The way we interact with each other is different. We don’t always agree on everything, but that goes for every group of people. Especially when you try to do as many crazy things as we do.”

Sit down with any member of the Spartan Thunder and you will find each student echoing the same sentiments; they are proud to be a member of the family they have created.

“It’s more than just a drumline. It’s a family really,” said Tyreek Altman, a junior at Smithfield-Selma High. “There’s always people you can go to, brothers you can talk to, and people to get advice from. It’s more like a brotherhood.”

The drumline, a melting pot of students, pulled together students with varying backgrounds in percussion. Many students came to Holmes with little knowledge about their instrument.

“This group of people accepted me whenever I didn’t know anything about the drumline. It made me feel special. It’s different than anything I’ve ever done before,” said Katie Hellis, a sophomore in the drumline.

Now the Spartan Thunder is seen by many as the best of the best, professional, and sought after. The students have been asked to perform at countless events in and outside of Johnston County.

“I know we do a lot of things, like for Showcase of Stars and the Special Olympics, but I feel like everything that happens is in the moment,” said Roland. “I really don’t think about all of the things we have done, but when I start to think about it, I realize I’m a part of something bigger than I could be by myself.”

Holmes said he hopes their success is just beginning, and that he can help continue to create something great with his students.

“I hope that we can continue to grow, get bigger, and get more kids, get more of these kids that would otherwise be super shy,” said Holmes. “I want all of these kids to come in and realize they can be a part of something magnificent.”

The Spartan Thunder will perform at the Smithfield-Selma High Band Percussion Theater 2019 on Thursday, May 9 at 3:30 p.m., Friday, May 10 at 7 p.m., and Saturday, May 11 at 7 p.m. The show, which has sold out in previous years, will be held in the school’s McLean Auditorium. Tickets for the Thursday show are $5 and are only available at the door. Tickets for the Friday and Saturday shows are $8 at the door, and reserved seats can be purchased in advance for $10 a ticket. Advance tickets can be purchased in the Smithfield-Selma High Band Office on May 7 from 5-6 p.m., and on May 8 from 11 a.m.-12 p.m.