The measure of success isn't determined by a final outcome, rather it's a continual effort and dedication applied over a period of time. The Marching Bulldogs used this formula across its season, and on Saturday, the band members' efforts paid off tenfold as they swept the 48th annual Illinois Marching Band Championships Class 3A awards at the University of Illinois' Memorial Stadium.
They took home hardware for best music, best general effect, best visual effect and even claimed the Governor's Grand Champion Award over all 21 Class 1A, 2A and 3A bands — the 10th time in Mahomet-Seymour's history.
Katie Witruk, a senior drum major, accepted the awards with fellow drum majors Annie Henrichs, William Larson and Sarah Schum. But the moment M-S' name was announced as the winner of the Governor's Grand Championship, the toy-soldier-like composure was gone by the wayside.
"It was surreal, and the most prideful experience I've ever experienced in my life," Witruk said. "It was amazing."
With Witruk's high school marching band career winding down, she couldn't help but feel nostalgic standing outside of Memorial Stadium for the final time.
"I'm just not ready for that last horns down whenever we go," she said.
The senior cherishes the friends she's made while wearing the Bulldog uniform.
"I've met some of my best friends through marching band," Witruk said. "There's a satisfaction of all of your hard work paying off and finally winning with all of your close friends — it's just the best."
Winning the Governor's Grand Champion Award was extra special for junior alto saxophone player Colson Uebelhoer, who was watching in the stands the last time M-S won the award in 2015.
"I came to watch it live, and I watched them win and I was like, 'Wow! I really want to do that!'" he said. "A few years later, here I am."
The milestone was a "great sense of accomplishment" for Uebelhoer, who has been practicing for contest season since summer.
"It feels amazing," he said. "Everybody puts in so much hard work for hours and hours for weeks and months and to watch it all pay off is just one of the greatest feelings in the world."
Each call of "Mahomet-Seymour High School" from the announcer as a winner over each category was yet another reinforcement of the students' success. But the path to victory wasn't necessarily an easy one.
Blustery conditions made the band members have to forgo props, and color guard members had to readjust routines.
"It was a little hectic," said Christal Caparoon, junior color guard member. "We had to hold most of our tosses. None of us were expecting to get any awards, so that was a nice surprise."
The vibe taking the field was one of nervousness and stress, and coming off the field was just as big a ball of emotions.
"There were four people crying because they thought they ruined the entire show for everyone," Caparoon said. "But afterward, there was a moment of calm where everyone accepted that it was just whatever, whether or not we won anything, and then we did and everyone was super happy about it."
Junior Kameron Hacker recalls seeing this year's band costumes of scrubs go flying across the field with the wind gusts. Fellow bandmates shared with her that they tripped over a lab coat that landed in the middle of the field.
"But you keep going," she said. "You can't stop. You look back and you laugh."
Many of the band members attribute the win to the calmness of the seniors' leadership. Charlotte Jordan, a senior clarinet player, said it's easy for freshmen to get stage fright given the large crowd.
"Even as a senior, we walked in there and we were like, 'Whoa! That's a lot of people,'" she said. "But it's really comforting to be able to be there and be like, 'Hey, you guys are going to do great. This is like every other performance.'"
This year's Governor's Grand Champion Award win was the icing on the cake for Jordan, who was a part of the 2015 award-winning squad as a freshman.
"This is really exciting," she said. "It's kind of come full circle for us."
For those experiencing such a finish during their freshman year, including alto saxophone player Ian Smith, the win is a mixture of emotions after a slew of nerves playing in front of a huge audience at Memorial Stadium for the first time.
"The nervousness is mixing with the adrenalin," Smith said. "I was like, 'Alright, let's do this, but also let's not mess this up.'"
More than anything, the freshman was glad to see the Marching Bulldogs' hours and hours of efforts finally pay off.
"The first year is tiring — it's extremely tiring," he said. "I go home all sweaty and tired and I just want to go to bed immediately."
"But I think all of this hard work has finally paid off," he added. "I'm feeling good."
Band director Michael Stevens said he was "very proud" of his crew for giving their all Saturday. He knows it wasn't the marching band's best performance, but he praised them for fighting hard and fighting through the wind.
"Just knowing that the kids felt that all of our hard work has been paying off after the hours and hours we've spent in the practice area."
Saturday marked the Marching Bulldogs' third competition of the year, and even though they won in each of Class 3A's categories, Stevens emphasized that the awards were not the important part of the day's events.
"I teach the kids from early on to be appreciative of their accomplishments but not to go crazy with it. We want to be respectful to other bands," he said.
"I was proud our kids were being excited but also being humble, too."
Stevens is in his 26th year teaching music at M-S. He took the helm after former band director Richard Watkins retired.
"I was his assistant for seven years," Stevens said.
Saturday's victory was all the more sweeter with Watkins in the stands.
"He was really proud," Stevens said.
One of the reasons Stevens has remained at M-S, taking the position in 1993 as his first job out of college, is the sense of tradition.
"It's very important to me to maintain and to keep the program relevant," Stevens said. "I'm doing everything in my power to keep M-S' fine arts tradition on the map."
Dozens of emails from Marching Bulldogs alumni reaching out to Stevens to congratulate him and the school on the band's success was confirmation enough of his continual efforts.
"I've had emails today saying, 'Hey, I remember when I was in the band and when we had a moment to win the trophy,'" Stevens said.
Over the years, Stevens has had many alumni return to say hello, but even more enjoyable for him is when a child of a former student comes through the program.
"That's probably the most rewarding for me," Stevens added.
Looking at the road that paved the way to Saturday's success, Stevens knows how much hard work and dedication went into the event.
The Marching Bulldogs have one final competition Saturday at 10:30 a.m. at the Bands of America Competition in St. Louis at the Dome at America's Center — the former home of the St. Louis Rams (now the L.A. Rams).
"I think years and years down the road, this is something they're never going to forget," Stevens said. "We try to build community in the group, and these hopefully last a lifetime and they'll pass it down to their grandkids and they'll remember fondly playing in our band."