RALEIGH — When Jeffrey "J.R." Richardson decided this year would be his last as Broughton High School's band director, choosing the program's next drum major became especially important.
The student-leader would have to ensure a smooth transition to the band's first new director in 33 years, and uphold the reputation of a program that has marched in the Parade of Roses and played for three U.S. presidents.
In 16-year-old Caroline Sprecher, Richardson made a unique choice: the band's first drum major who is both a female and a junior.
"When you're looking for a drum major, you're looking for a role model - someone who is good with academics, and who will stay late to make sure the job is done," Richardson said. "I think I got it right. With Caroline, I don't have to second guess anything."
Sprecher is only the fourth female and the fifth junior in the past 33 years to earn the coveted post. She was chosen over about a dozen of her fellow band members, including a few seniors.
A quiet saxophone player with music in her genes, Sprecher is now responsible for the tempo of all 140 students in the band and color guard of Wake County's oldest program.
"My freshman year we had a great drum major, and I wanted that opportunity to be a great role model and have that responsibility," she said.
But it's a tough job, and it comes with a steep learning curve.
A demanding Richardson judges Sprecher's performance largely by how the band performs. She has to memorize much more than her saxophone notes, spend hours each week working on preparations behind the scenes, and makes sure everyone warms up before Richardson takes the field for practice.
"It has been a lot more work than I ever could have imagined," she said. "But it has been infinitely more rewarding."
To practice, she spends significant time conducting in front of a mirror, and occasionally goes to the park with her dad to practice yelling, which she says is her biggest weakness.
But with only two games under her belt, Sprecher already has earned her classmates' respect.
Richardson said when Sprecher asked five or six people to help at a workday this summer, 20 showed up.
She walked from group to group Thursday encouraging band members before a pre-game practice, but was treated like just another member. And that's how she wants it.
"It's not so much about the goals I have for myself," Sprecher said. "It's about wanting the band to succeed."
And seniors don't have animosity toward her - they deem her "sweet" and "a great leader."
"I love her to death," said senior Lakesha Alexander, 17. "She's willing to help anyone, no matter what the job is."
Sprecher said she has no definite post-high school plans, though she leans toward trying to play at UNC-Chapel Hill, where her parents met in the band and where her older sister currently plays the clarinet.
Her mother, Gail Sprecher, was in Richardson's first graduating class at Broughton in 1978.
Her younger sister plays saxophone at Martin Middle School.
"That's made it really special for me," Gail Sprecher said. "She's getting a lot out of it. But we still get a little nervous every time she steps up on that podium."
That's when Caroline gets nervous, too.
"It's being a part of something bigger than yourself," she said. "I know I'll never do anything else like it."
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