The small town of Austin, Indiana, made national headlines for an HIV outbreak tied to injection drug use two years ago.
Now, community in Scott County is making news for a different reason.
For the first time ever, the high school’s Dimensions show choir is heading to a national competition in Chicago later this month.
And Indiana Public Broadcasting's Barbara Brosher reports the theme of the show resonates with many of the students.
About 30 high school students slowly file onto the stage in Austin High School’s small auditorium. They face away from the audience until the first beats of their opening number plays. Then they turn around, seemingly transformed.
“I love being on stage,” says senior Courtney Neace. “Just because the people in the audience, I have no clue who half the people are. And, when they see me up there, they just think ‘Oh, she’s a really good performer.’ They don’t think about all of the struggles I’ve had to face in my life and all of the bad things that people know my family for.”
Neace is among the most animated in the group. Her face lights up with expression from the moment she hits the stage. For her, singing provides an escape.
“I lost my mom in 2012 to drugs. She was 29 years old.”
Neace’s past is well known around the small, rural community. But she doesn’t let it define her.
“We all have matters that are our demons, but when we’re on the stage nothing else matters but the music.”
“Everyone has issues outside of the stage,” says senior Kailey Fugate. “We all have matters that are our demons, but when we’re on the stage nothing else matters but the music.”
Those experiences made it easy for Choir Director Kathy Sego to come up with a theme for this year’s show.
Sego says many people outside of the community have pre-conceived notions about what the small town is like.
They associate Austin with HIV, drugs and poverty.
That’s not the Austin she knows.
“That’s why kind of the theme is that we’re going to rise above everything that’s going on within our community and nothing is impossible,” Sego says. “We’re going to show everyone in the community and everybody else what Austin is and that nothing’s impossible.”
The students sing powerful lyrics about being “unstoppable” and not just becoming “another face in the crowd.”
Senior Jake Shadburn says the message in the lyrics resonates with him.
“We’re kind of here to say, that’s the bad part, but look at us,” Shadburn says. “We’re doing something great and why focus on the bad when you have something good like us?”
Choir Looking To Community For Support
Many Austin residents are excited about the show choir’s unprecedented success. Dimensions will compete at the Fame Show Choir National Championship Series in Chicago April 21 and 22.
But, it will cost them about $15,000 to attend the competition. That’s a lot of money for the small school, so they’re hosting a fundraising concert and asking people to donate online.
Many of the kids don’t have money of their own to pay for meals during the trip and few have visited Chicago before.
“I’ve never even been to Chicago and it just blows my mind that we’re getting this opportunity to go,” Neace says.
The students are rehearsing every day in preparation for the competition.
They say they're not focused on winning, just the fact they're invited to compete.
“We might not be number one, but I think to the community and people who know the show choir, we win,” Fugate says.