The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

November 6, 2013

Special needs first-grader serves as honorary drum major

Strike Up the Band

By Jonathan Deal

WEST LIMESTONE — Even before she could talk, it was easy to see Kelli Gooch loved music. The first-grader would watch her brother, Cameron, on Friday nights play in West Limestone High School’s marching band, wishing she could join them for a tune.

At West Limestone’s last home football game, Kelli lived that dream. Donning her very own black and blue drum major uniform, Kelli led West Limestone’s band onto the field.

“She always acts likes she’s leading the band at home while one of us plays music,” said Lori Gooch, Kelli’s mother. “After the games and in the band room, she’s always playing some kind of instrument. Of course, everybody at school knows her and was happy to see her out there.”

Kelli, a first-grader at West Limestone, was born with Down syndrome. That hasn’t stopped her from bringing joy to the Gooch family and everyone else sitting in the stands last month at James Kennemer Stadium.

“She has always loved the drums,” said Lori.  “Before she ever started school, the babysitter would give her spoons to bang around her house. We gave her a drum for Christmas. With our son being in the band, she watches them all the time.”

Like other band families, the Gooches travel on Friday nights for football games and on weekends for band competitions. After one of those competitions, West Limestone drum major Rachel Taylor approached Lori about her daughter joining her on the field for a game.

“It was a shock to me, too,” said Lori. “I didn’t know anything about it until Rachel approached me. It was a great experience.”

Taylor had heard how much Kelli loved to watch them play during halftime. She wanted the band’s biggest fan to join them for the final game of the season.

Walking hand-in-hand with Taylor, Kelli smiled proudly as she marched West Limestone’s band into the stadium for a game against Haleyville Oct. 25.

“Her thought was that she was going to go out on the field and stand on the podium,” said Lori. “We told her she would be able to walk in with her (Taylor). She was a little hesitant at first because it was so loud, but once she got down there, she loved it.”

Kelli sat with Taylor and the rest of the band for most of the football game. It was the Wildcats’ last home game before the playoffs.

West Limestone will be on the road Friday, but could play at home if they advance to the second round. If West Limestone does have another home game this season, you can count on Kelli being there to cheer them on.