Huntington North cheerleader gets bitten by marching band bug and now lives in both worlds

Callista Barker, a member of both the Huntington North High School cheerleading squad and marching band, performs with the band while clad in her cheerleading attire during halftime of the school’s homecoming football game on Friday, Sept. 25.
Callista Barker, a member of both the Huntington North High School cheerleading squad and marching band, performs with the band while clad in her cheerleading attire during halftime of the school’s homecoming football game on Friday, Sept. 25. Photo by Steve Clark.

Originally published Oct. 8, 2015.

Callista Barker already excelled at cheerleading, leading Huntington North High School throughout her high school career in supporting its sports teams.

But one day she picked up a drum.

“It was my best friend at the time, Brandon Blue,” she says. “He was in drum line and they weren’t going to have a drum line that year — it was my sophomore year — because people weren’t trying out for it. So he dragged me into it … I ended up really liking it.”

Barker, 17, says she was hooked. The senior has been cheering at Riverview Middle School and HNHS for six years, but added the band — despite the potential for conflicts of her time — and has been the second bass drummer for the past two years. However, this is the first year she has taken a band class.

Recently, Barker joined her band teammates at a competition at East Noble High School, in which they took first place and snagged best visual and best general effect in the contest.

But on Friday nights during football season, Barker dons her cheerleading uniform to lead the crowd into cheers; during halftime she puts on her band hat, and marches — still in her cheerleading outfit  - without missing a beat.

For the most part, she says she plays by ear, having learned the basics of playing drum from her friend.

“I just told them that I’m going to be in the band and I showed up for band camp,” Barker says. “They’ll put you in the show and give you a ‘dot,’ which is like your spot in each set … I have a blue mark on my shoe over there from band camp, where they actually mark your dot.”

Balancing one’s time when they decide to take up two time-consuming extracurricular activities is something Barker has amazingly been able to accomplish, according to Head Cheer Coach Shelli Coburn. She describes the cheerleader-drummer as an extremely hard worker who has a heart of gold, able to handle schoolwork along with her extracurricular interests.

“She does great. She communicates very well with both her band director and me. There have been a couple of times when she has left here early, or vice versa and she leaves band and comes here.” Coburn says. “So far we’ve been able to do it really well between both of them. I’m sure she takes on a lot by doing both, but I think she really enjoys being able to do both band and cheer.”

Coburn says when Barker gets her drum and straps it on, while still wearing her cheerleading uniform, it grabs a lot of interest, since she doesn’t have time to change.

“She leaves about two minutes before halftime, hustles out there, and then does the band performance — then runs back and finishes third and fourth quarter with us,” she adds.

HNHS Assistant Band Director John Gardner says Barker is a good musician, despite not having had much formal musical training.

“When she joined the band, it was with the understanding that cheerleading was her first priority,” Gardner says. “There have been a few bumps in the road, but she makes sure she comes to Saturday rehearsals before the band has a contest. We’re glad to have her.”

After she graduates this year, Barker plans to attend the University of Tennessee to study psychology, and says she won’t have time to participate in either music or cheer.

However, Barker has found herself in the unique position of being something of an “ambassador” to the two groups, which don’t always dovetail their activities together. She makes it clear that band members — often stereotyped as geeky or socially inept — as well as cheerleaders — often falsely accused of being dense or snooty — both work hard to achieve success and excellence.

“I would like people to understand that marching band is a sport, because I think a lot of people kind of downgrade it, but it’s a lot of hard work, and those kids put in as much time and energy as the football team or anybody else. It’s a lot of work — especially in drum line, when you have to carry 40-pound drums and march and play. It is a lot of work, so I just want people to recognize that.

“The kids in band aren’t just sitting around playing on their flutes; they are working really, really hard, and they do put in a lot of work,” Barker says.

“It’s actually a really good thing that I’m in both, because my coaches have been able to talk with the band directors through me, because we like to make up dances to the songs they play during the games.

“So now that I can talk directly to the band director and come back and talk to my coaches, it’s a lot more communication, and I think it’s a lot more cooperation, too.”