Minutes before the bus painting contest began at Washington County Fairgrounds, Grace Sumney, 16, scrambled around her school’s soon-to-be kaleidoscopic bus, amidst a frenzy of high school band students.
“I love getting everybody in our band excited about (the contest), seeing everybody work together,” Sumney, a rising senior at Bentworth High School, said. “And seeing us win.”
Sumney’s confidence paid off.
Tonight is high school band night at the Washington County Fair, followed by the school bus demolition derby. A week before the event, members of 11 high school bands gathered at the show arena to paint their buses and compete for the best paint job award. The fair board pays for the old buses used in the competition.
Each high school band had an hour to transform its bus into a mural that is everything but yellow, followed by a review from judges Makala VanVarenberg, last year’s fair queen; Audra Brigich, fair board treasurer; and Wayne Hunnell, fair board secretary.
Although this was her first year serving as judge, VanVarenberg already knew exactly what she would consider when selecting a winner.
“I look for creativity, if they are having fun and if they are working together,” VanVarenberg, 19, said.
Chad McGowan, fair board vice president, announced the theme this year was 1990s cartoon shows and the students set to work sketching a variety of characters from Nickelodeon’s “SpongeBob SquarePants” to Cartoon Network’s “Courage the Cowardly Dog.”
School districts participating included Ringgold, Fort Cherry, Bentworth, McGuffey, Chartiers-Houston, California, Burgettstown, Peters Township, Bethlehem-Center and Avella. Because of scheduling issues, Washington painted its bus Saturday.
“McGuffey’s band always has camp the same night as (the contest),” McGowan added. “So their cheerleaders volunteer to paint the bus for them.”
Once the buckets were pried open, the show arena practically rained paint.
One band member began to beat a drum brimming with magenta paint and sending splatters throughout the crowd. Dozens of students dipped their brushes in buckets as though they were about to paint the bus, but then flung paint at the person beside them.
Cassie Maidment, 11, and Elizabeth Bell, 14, of Avella, were speckled in multicolored splatters.
Maidment and Bell simultaneously announced their favorite part of the night.
“Painting ourselves,” they both said, giggling.
At the end of the hour, winners were announced.
When Sumney heard that Bentworth had placed first for the second year in a row, she flung up her paint-streaked arms and screamed along with her classmates.
“It brings all the schools together,” Todd Richards, fair board president, said. “It’s a friendly competition.”
The derby’s bus drivers were assigned to each school district by picking out of a hat. A majority of the bus drivers were in attendance, including Bentworth’s driver, Gary Friend.
Although this is Friend’s first year participating in a bus demolition, he has driven in car demolition derbies for two decades.
Because of the switch, Friend has a new strategy planned for this year.
“(The bus derby) is a lot bigger,” Friend said. “We’re probably going to be packed in real tight … You have to get up enough speed to do a lot of damage, so you’ve got to make the hits count.”
Win or lose, bus painting is a tradition for area high school bands.
Della Fisher, Ringgold’s drum major, has participated in bus paintings throughout her high school career. As a senior, Fisher, 17, is certain she’ll miss participating.
“I love cheering and yelling with my band,” Fisher said. “It hypes us up for the season that’s coming up.”