HUNTINGBURG, Ind. (WEHT) – Almost a dozen local high school marching bands took part in state finals last Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Drew Meece is part of the Southridge Raider Band and made that trip, but his story is bigger than the event.
Eyewitness News’ Cameron Witte takes you through his journey and why music has become his foundation.
“I first met him when he was 7 years old. It’s been wonderful to watch him grow into a 15-year-old young man.”
“We knew that marching would be a challenge for him and he’s the type of kid that can do anything he wants.”
“He always makes the joke ‘Mr. Kendall, I can’t sight-read.'”
In the small town of Huntingburg Indiana, an hour west of Evansville, there is a marching band: The Southridge Raider Band.
They practice just like any other, vying for a chance to travel to Lucas Oil Stadium, to compete for a state title.
There is, however, one member, who has a special story to be told. One that is defined by perseverance and adversity.
“Drew is our second child and so we had a two-year-old daughter when Drew was born, and so we had some experience with typical behaviors of a newborn.”
At three-months-old, Drew had to be seen by a specialist, and what they would tell Natalie and Jeff would change their lives forever.
“Almost immediately found out that he was blind, that he had Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis, which is a pretty rare eye condition. There’s actually nothing wrong with his eyes and there’s actually nothing wrong with his brain, but there’s no connection between the two.”
Natalie and Jeff had to make a decision: Give Drew special treatment due to his condition or treat him just like anyone else.
“People suggested that we pad the furniture. People suggested that he wear a helmet. People had all kinds of suggestions for us and we just kind of decided, as long as he’s not gonna hurt himself.”
Drew grew up like any other kid, just with special eyes looking out for him along the way. Music became a part of his life through church, where he was a part of the praise band. When Middle School came along, he had an interest in joining the band.
“When I first found out he was gonna be interested in it, I started looking at different ways, what can I do to help him keep pursuing this dream or this interest that he has.”
Playing in an instrumental band and school choir is a little different than at church, so Mr. Butler and Mr. Kendall had to think of a different way to teach Drew how to play.
“We will record the music and he has an opportunity to hear that more and listen to that, he can pick it up quickly and memorize things.”
“We do a lot of sight reading in our choral program, so whenever it comes to it, I have to be prepared to make sure he’s got recordings to listen to, and in marching band, we give Drew parts that are hard, but parts that he can hear and play back to us.”
“I can hear notes and so I can hear pitch fairly well, and so I enjoy being able to match that pitch.”
While Drew can play well, he doesn’t actually march, and with that comes the challenge of setup. Now entering the field, a Raider Band alumna.
“I had never really had an encounter with a person who is blind, and so at band camp he was still learning his music, so I had to figure out how to teach someone who couldn’t actually see music, so I had to play it for him.”
“At the time, I had no knowledge of Braille, but I decided I’d give it a shot. It seemed like something that I would be interested in doing.”
Mara Lowery proceeded to take six months of online Braille classes through the University of Massachusetts, learning the code at the same time Drew was. They spend almost all day at school together, whether in class or in her office.
“Our relationship is more like a mother and son relationship. We bicker back and forth occasionally.”
Drew is just your typical high school sophomore.
“You’ll have just as much in common with him as you would any other person. He lives in the same world you do; he’s got opinions and passions and things that he likes.”
“Do we treat him any different? No. He’s Drew, he’s just like everybody else. He doesn’t want to be treated any different.”
“I don’t want my blindness, me being blind, to negatively affect my life. It’s not something that I want to look at as a hindrance really. I think any obstacle that came, I was just determined to get around it because music is what I wanted to continue to do, and so in that case I continued to do it.”
“He knows his path and he’s very good at sticking to the path.”
“He doesn’t let anything stop him and he’s not gonna let anyone make him feel less than what he knows that he is.”
“I believe that I was created blind for a purpose.”
Drew says the trips to Lucas Oil have been life changing. He plans on becoming a minister after high school and showing others that what they may view as a weakness is actually a gift.
(This story was originally published on November 15, 2019)