Jim Commander expects his Buena Regional High School marching band to perform at the highest level. Winning, however, doesn’t matter to the resident of the Sweetwater section of Mullica Township as much as learning does.

The 53-year-old band director and music teacher’s philosophy is to welcome anyone who wants to participate. His 28 years of experience at Buena Regional and Pleasantville high schools — two school districts that do not have large financial resources — have made him realize it’s more important to get students involved than it is to walk away with a trophy.

Commander finds roles for students in the marching band and color guard even if they have no experience and do not play instruments. He works with special-needs students to acclimate them to being part of the team. His goal is to help them learn as much as they can.

This year’s squad featured 52 students, which is high for a school of about 900. He sees many schools with larger enrollments compete with bands half the size because he believes they are more concerned with winning.

“I just want them to go out there and enjoy the process,” Commander said. “When we arrive, I have my little pickup truck pulling a little utility trailer with a staff of three. Other schools arrive with three U-Haul trucks or a semi and a staff of 10. Students can see our resources don’t match up. But for us, it’s not about that. If they give their best performance every week, I’m happy.”

Short stories

- The Deerfield Township Harvest Festival’s Dessert Baking Challenge honors went to several local residents who wowed judges with cookies, tiramisu and Phillies-themed cupcakes. Bridgeton’s Jennifer Bates took first prize in the cake and cookie categories for her almond and orange cake and “Bellalicious Cutout Sugar Cookies.” Denise Myers, also of Bridgeton, won second in the cake category for her tiramisu cake. Millville’s Deb Campbell won second prize in the cookie category for her “Everything Cookies.” Bridgeton’s Margaret Hemple took first-place pie for her “Easy Cranberry” pie. Junior division winner Krystal Murphy, of Deerfield Township, won for her pumpkin pie and Phillies-themed cupcakes. She took home top honors in both the pie and cake categories. The township Recreation Committee will publish this year’s winning recipes in a Harvest Festival Cookbook planned for next fall.

- It takes about two hours to get to Florida by plane. It takes about 24 hours to get there by car. Inspired by a thirst for adventure and a worthy cause, Dennis Township’s Ken Heath made the trip in 19 days — by bike. Heath rode his Motobecane Fantom bicycle more than 1,200 miles, departing from Medford Township, Burlington County, and arriving in Port Charlotte. Heath took the trip to raise money and awareness for the Wounded Warrior project, an organization that sponsors programs and services for injured U.S. service members. He has ridden previously in the 150-mile City to Shore bike ride from Cherry Hill to Ocean City to raise money for multiple sclerosis treatments.

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