Tony Clines, a retired Robinson High School band director, likes to joke about the three qualifications needed for induction into the Texas Bandmasters Hall of Fame: being retired, older than age 65 or deceased.
He has two of those qualifications marked off his checklist and will join the hall of fame Saturday at a ceremony in San Antonio. A community reception in his honor will be held at 6 p.m. Monday at the Robinson High School Commons Area, 700 W. Tate St.
Clines, who won four state championships at Robinson, is the third band director from McLennan County to earn a spot on the hall of fame wall since its beginning, said Ben Gollehon, the hall of fame committee chairman. Gollehon said Clines was nominated by Barbara Sperberg, who was Clines’ band director in high school.
Clines, 67, recalled a time where he thought band wasn’t for him. He quit band in the fifth grade after two weeks of practice, he said.
“I don’t really remember exactly why, because the band director was really good. In fact, that band director is in the hall of fame, but he was only at our school for one year,” Clines said.
Though he loved sports, Clines knew he wouldn’t get far with his short and lean stature.
“The only thing I remember is this kid who sat beside me, who also played cornet, and completely filled his cornet up with spit one day. He got in big-time trouble, and that’s all I really remember,” Clines said. “Other than that, I don’t know why I quit but I started the next year and enjoyed it since.”
Clines’ flair and passion for marching music didn’t really ignite until a new band director came to his hometown of Ralls during his junior year. Sperberg, a first-year band director from Texas Tech University, transformed him into a driven, competitive perfectionist, he said. Clines eventually rose to become drum major for the band, he said.
‘Going to be right’
“It was going to be right, and it didn’t matter how many times it was going to take. It was going to be right, even to the point of at one football game, she was not satisfied with how we’d done at halftime. So, when the game was over, we marched again,” Clines said. “It was much better the second time, so that’s where a lot of that came from.”
Clines graduated from Texas Tech with a master’s degree in music education, paid for through a scholarship of $50 a semester. He took his education and drive for success to Muleshoe, northwest of Lubbock, until 1977, when he was named the head band director for the Pride of the Blue marching band at Robinson.
Under Clines’ reign, the band took home four state championships, but that isn’t the most impressive number, he said.
“What I’m proud of is we had the opportunity to go to state 18 times, and we went 16 of those,” Clines said. “Of those 16 times, we were finalists 14 times and we were runner-up four times, as well as winning four times. So, it was a long period of time that the band was very good.”
The band hadn’t had much success in the years before he arrived, but he knew, and the community knew, the band was capable of much more, he said. But translating the perfectionism taught to him by his high school and college band directors to his high school students was no easy task.
“It was kind of a battle at first with the discipline. But the first year I was there, the band made a one in a marching contest, and I think that was the second time ever,” he said. “The truth of the matter is, it came an absolute downpour just as we came on the field, but the kids did great. That first taste of winning just turned the whole thing, saying, ‘I guess he does know what he’s talking about,’ and ‘I guess there is value in this.’ ”
Band enrollment took a big jump the next year, and the journey snowballed from there, Clines said. In a school of 600 students, as many as 276 marched with the band one year. For the past 20 years, the band had more than 200 people in it, Clines said.
“If anybody wanted to be in band, and was willing to do the work, we found a place for them,” he said. “Some of them didn’t get very far musically, but they were able to be part of the group. We also had several kids who started late, and through working and through other teachers and myself helping them, it really amazed us with how far they did get musically with that late a start.”
James Smith, a close friend, fellow church member and former Robinson Independent School District principal and superintendent, spent 34 years in the district before he retired in 2003. When Clines was first hired, Clines brought a level of enthusiasm and dedication that hadn’t existed before, Smith said.
“His ability to cement all the different groups necessary to have a successful program — he was able to talk to all the different groups,” Smith said.
Clines knew a successful high school program meant building from the bottom up and getting students involved before the ninth grade, Smith said.
‘Have to build bridges’
“At a school our size, you need students to participate at several levels,” he said. “You don’t have students who generally perform at one spot. They don’t just do baseball or football or they don’t just do band. Many of them cross over, and you have to build bridges. . . . There were times you might have conflicts between practice schedules and team game schedules, and Tony was great at working with the people.”
Clines’ high energy and ambitious attitude even translated off the field, Smith joked. The two would often go to baseball games together, and if Smith ate one hot dog, Clines had to have two, plus ice cream, he said.
“Tony Clines is the role model you would want every child to have the opportunity to know him, be around him and be one of his students,” Smith said. “He is that type of person, when you think about who I would want to influence my child, it would be Tony Clines.”
That competitive nature comes straight from his heart, Clines said, pointing to his chest.
“It was totally within, and it was the same thing with the band. That’s what I did with the band. We didn’t talk about what other bands were doing or how other bands were going to do,” Clines said. “We were not satisfied with just making a first division (ranking). We wanted — and it all came back to this one goal — to not have any doubt in your own mind when you left the field that you had done the very best you could do. If everybody does the very best they can do, then all that other stuff takes care of itself.”
Clines ultimately stepped down as director in 2004 when he realized his body couldn’t keep up anymore, he said.
“That kind of passion can also be exhausting, and that’s a big part of it. We start marching band in August, so we’re outside four, five or six hours,” he said. “We’re on an asphalt parking lot. I am always an early riser and I never hear my alarm clock. The second day of summer, my alarm went off, and it was like, ‘I don’t think I can move,’ you know? I was just so zapped by the heat, so that was an indication.
“And the styles of marching bands were changing pretty drastically, and I honestly did not like the way the style was going. I would not have quit just for the sake of thinking ‘I don’t think we could keep doing what we’re doing and be competitive.’ But that played into it because I was not willing to change what I had been successful at and what everybody knew us for, and it would have meant taking a step back because we would have not been as good fundamentally. At that point in my career, I just didn’t want to change.”
As he looks back on his career before his induction ceremony Saturday afternoon in San Antonio, he knows the true secret to his success lies with the compassion he has shown as a leader, Clines said.
“Loving people, the kids knew I loved them as a person, individually. Their parents knew that. The band was the thing, but it was the people that were really the important thing,” he said, wiping tears from his eyes. “That was the best part for me, teaching the kids that whatever it is, if it’s important to you, to treat it like it’s important to you. And treat the people you come in contact with the way they should be.”
Clines has no intention of stopping his music career anytime soon. He serves as the choir director at Waco’s Meadowbrook Baptist Church and as Region 8 University Interscholastic League executive secretary.
If you go
What: Community reception to honor retired Robinson High School band director Tony Clines for his induction into the Texas Bandmasters Hall of Fame.
When: 6 p.m. Monday
Where: Robinson High School Commons Area, 700 W. Tate St. in Robinson
Tony Clines’ resume
Drum major for Texas Tech University
Bachelor’s degree in music education, 1972
Master’s degree in music education, 1973
Band director in Muleshoe, 1973-1977
Robinson High School band director, 1977-2004
• Four state championships
• Went to state 16 times
• Finalist at state 14 times
• Runner-up at state four times
Choir director for Meadowbrook Baptist Church
Region 8 executive secretary for UIL Music