||Friday, May 24, 2013
8 band members hospitalized
by Gregory R. Norfleet · News · August 10, 2012
Victor Garcia stood against the south wall of Figge Auditorium Saturday afternoon in his full dress uniform of the Herbert Hoover High School Marching Tornadoes when “things started going black at the edges of my eyes.”
He and more than 60 fellow band members, visiting West Branch from Glendale, Calif., to perform at Hoover’s Hometown Days had already marched in the parade and stood outside at the Hoover grave site before a heavy thunderstorm drove everyone indoors.
In the packed Hoover Library-Museum auditorium, the air conditioning was not enough to cool him down in the “really heavy” uniform, Garcia said.
“I started blacking out,” he said. “I tried not to. I felt I would disappoint (Director)Mr. (Martin) Rhees if I did, but I didn’t want to fall on people or hurt my instrument.”
The Hoover Tornadoes are trained to stand still and keep their eyes straight ahead, so chaperones immediately converged on Garcia when he stepped out of line, took his alto saxophone and helped him out of his jacket and shako while escorting him to the lobby.
Garcia was the first of as many as 13 students who fell ill in less than a half hour during the Celebration of Life ceremony, one of the signature events of Hoover’s Hometown Days as it commemorates West Branch’s favorite son. Emergency responders ended up taking eight of the California students to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics after they became overheated.
Rhees said paramedics reported to him that everyone taken to the hospital ate little to no breakfast that morning and, coupled with the high-80s temperatures, became overheated.
Those who went to the hospital either went for treatment or observation, Rhees said. Garcia said he and others were warned by doctors to rest, but all of them returned to perform a third time, this on the Library-Museum’s east lawn.
Heat and rain
The ceremony started outdoors by the grave site of the Hoover National Historic Site, but rain began to fall about 10 minutes in and Hoover Association Executive Director Becky Allgood, heeding a warning issued by National Park Service staff, moved the event indoors.
The crowd, speakers and both marching bands filled the auditorium with West Branch players, mostly in T-shirts and shorts, on stage and Hoover High players, still in their full dress uniforms, lining the three walls that surround the seats.
The ceremony continued from where it had left off, with speakers taking the podium while the band members waited. When the fourth speaker began his turn, Garcia was the first one to step out of formation. About five or six minutes later, a second Hoover band member stepped out; a third left another five or six minutes after that.
The keynote speaker, U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack was a few minutes into his address when a fourth Hoover band member left the room, also assisted by chaperones.
Organizers decided to interrupt Loebsack’s speech to let the two bands perform “Purple Mountain Majesty,” (an HHHS arrangement of “God Bless America,” reflecting the school color). During the performance, the storm, with 50-mile-per-hour winds, was raging outside, causing the power to blink off. At the end of the song, the audience gave the bands a standing ovation.
Almost immediately after the applause died down, at about 12:57 p.m., the power went out and stayed out for about 10 minutes. Emergency lights came on in the hallways, organizers stopped the ceremony, security brought flashlights and many in the audience used cell phones to light their way out of the dark auditorium.
Library-Museum Director Thomas Schwartz said getting the students cooled off was the first priority, and keeping others away from windows was an immediate second. He had heard that when the storm hit Cedar Falls, winds were up to 75 miles her hour, hail mixed with the rain and a possible tornado had been spotted.
West Branch Fire Department was on the scene already attending to the band students, two of whom were seated in the rotunda and others sat or laid on the floor throughout the permanent exhibits. Hoover band members were told to remove their outer layers to cool off, but more of them began feeling faint.
Because of the powerful storm, the crowd remained inside, eating Hoover birthday cupcakes in the foyer or wandering through the exhibits. When another Hoover band member fell faint inside the “Years of Compassion: 1914-1923” section, the crowd was ordered away from the section to help the air conditioning cool things off there.
West Liberty Ambulance and Johnson County Ambulance Service pulled up outside the glass doors of the Library-Museum to begin taking those overcome to the hospital. At least three were taken out on stretchers and a fourth rolled out on a folding wheelchair with a handle like a dolly.
Many students who did not need medical attention sat on benches or the floor in the “Who But Hoover” section; two girls laid down on a cushioned bench in front of TV screens showing Hoover’s inauguration.
Fire Chief Kevin Stoolman directed emergency responders and worked with Hoover Complex administrators; West Branch Police Chief Mike Horihan arrived with a cooler filled with bottled water for the band students.
HHHS Booster Organization President Michael Risner said Rhees tried to prepare the band prior to the trip by holding practice outdoors in the morning, and indoors with no air conditioning, then finishing with six laps — 1 1/2 miles — around the high school track.
He said California, though, was experiencing 25 to 30 percent humidity, while Iowa seemed significantly higher. That and low blood sugar from insufficient eating beforehand eventually weakened their endurance.
“Still, they are all happy to be here,” he said. “They’re (otherwise) having a great time. They knew they would have stories to tell, now ...”
Anaeis Davoodian, a 17-year-old senior at HHHS, said that she could tell “by their faces” that fellow band members were struggling.
“It was hotter outside, but we were still sweating inside,” she said. “I felt really bad (for my friends) and I wanted to help them. I had never seen a friend faint. But they’ll be OK. They’re strong people.”
One of the Hoover chaperones, Rene Soriano, went out to the Hoover grounds to find food for the band members and first came upon the West Branch Masonic Lodge, which was serving pork.
Ray Slach, a Mason who had given Soriano a place to stay for the weekend (several West Branch families hosted Hoover Tornado players and chaperones), responded with “Let’s go,” Soriano said, and men began packing up food to take to the Hoover Library-Museum. They set up lunch in the reading room of the archives for everyone who remained.
Gatorade, water, grapes and pork were laid out on a table and Nancy Slach began serving while Library-Museum staff and volunteers began setting up folding tables and chairs. Rhees was encouraging his band to “please start, please eat.”
Once everyone had food and drink, Rhees encouraged each of them to share cell phones and call home.
“Talk to your folks and let them know you are OK,” he said. “I would want to hear it from my own (child) that you are OK.”
Rev. Richard Paulus, dressed as Samuel Adams for Hometown Days festivities, joined the group to entertain the students with conversation. West Branch band parent Rhonda Leith, who also housed some California visitors, also engaged the students to keep them occupied.
Schwartz said that James Gardner, who oversees presidential libraries for the National Archives and who spoke at the Celebration of Life, told him he was impressed by how swiftly Library-Museum staff improvised to help deal with the crisis and keep people calm.
WBHS band director Staci Speer, only five days at the job, said both West Branch and HHHS band members handled the heat “extremely well,” and she was impressed how much the West Branch students wanted to help.
“They learned how to work together,” she said.
After most of the HHHS students had eaten, Rhees returned and asked if they wanted to continue with their afternoon performance. A majority quickly raised their hands; Rhees agreed to let them perform, but without jackets and shakos.
“Everybody has done their darn best,” Rhees said. “Nobody wants to point fingers, and nobody here wants bad things to happen. These things occur and we learn.”
The HHHS director said that participating in Hoover’s Hometown Days was “an important trip for us.”
“We learned so much about what a great man Herbert Hoover was,” he said. “And I’m glad they wanted to play. Hopefully that will flush away any negatives and end on a positive.”
After the HHHS band performed for the third time that day, the audience gave them a standing ovation. Backstage, Rhees told them he was proud of them.
“This speaks to your character and integrity when you do something when you don’t have to do it,” he said. “If Herbert Hoover was alive, he would be proud. You’re awesome.”
Garcia, who also runs cross country, chuckled that it was ironic that he was the first one to faint, and that he may not want to tell his friends. Then again, he said, he works on the school newspaper.
“When I went (to sit down in the lobby) I said, ‘This is going to be a good article.’”