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The Ouachita Parish School Board agreed to name West Monroe High School’s band hall after Dr. Michael Spears, the storied Rebel Band director who taught band at the high school for 47 years.

During its regular meeting last week, the School Board voted unanimously to name the high school’s band hall facility the “Michael D. Spears Band Hall.”

Spears died in early 2018 after a lengthy battle with kidney cancer.

“He made many great strides and set the foundation for this district,” said School Board member Tommy Comeaux. “If you ever went to the ball game and heard the announcement, ‘the best band in the land,’ that was pretty close.”

“This is an easy decision, as far as I’m concerned,” he added.

Comeaux offered the motion to name the band hall after Spears. School Board member Shere May seconded the motion.

School Board President Jerry Hicks said Rebel Band earned the reputation as one of the best bands in the country.

“He always made it known we never lost a half-time show,” Hicks said.

Robert Freeman, director of Rebel Band, wrote the Sept. 20 letter to high school principal Shelby Ainsworth asking that band hall facility be named after Spears.

“Dr. Spears was an icon in the music education field locally, regionally and nationally,” Freeman wrote.

Freeman’s letter outlined Spears’ career: Spears began teaching at West Monroe High School in 1966 and retired in 2013. During Spears’ tenure, the band competed across the country. Spears also was honored by several organizations, including the John Philip Sousa Legion of Honor and the Louisiana Music Educators Association Hall of Fame.

“Many of his students have become music educators or professional musicians in the global arena,” Freeman wrote.

Beyond his work as the high school’s director of bands, Spears also served as a music minister at local churches, including Good Hope Baptist Church, First Baptist Church in Calhoun (27 years), and as the founder and director of the church orchestra at First Baptist Church in West Monroe (20 years), according to the facility naming proposal.

The facility naming proposal also detailed the tragic circumstances around Spears’ death: He was diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2004, the disease that ultimately took his life.

“He always dealt with this disease with dignity and self-deprecation, never truly letting others know the pain and debilitating nature of it,” stated the facility naming proposal. “He simply continued to put his faith and trust in Christ for strength and endurance. To hear him talk of it, one would think it was nothing more than a head cold.”

On another front, the School Board also voted to add the name of Ethel Owens to the gymnasium at Pinecrest Elementary and Middle School. With the addition of her name, the gymnasium would honor her and her husband: the Dwight and Ethel Owens Gymnasium.

“She was such a partner and important figure in teaching and in the lives of the kids,” said Superintendent Don Coker. “She was the go-to person, from what I understand, for that school and that community.”

School Board member Scotty Waggoner, who offered the motion to add Ethel Owen’s name to the facility, described her and her husband as two great pillars in the community.

“I learned a lot from them,” Waggoner said. “I went to church with both of them. I’m sure both of them were at my wedding. It’s a great honor that I make the motion to add Ms. Ethel Owens’ name.”

Comeaux echoed Coker and Waggoner’s remarks.

“She was as good as gold,” Comeaux said. “Quiet, a very good teacher, and a very good person.”

Meanwhile, the School Board agreed to seek bids on a project outfitting Woodlawn School with a band and choir room.

The project could cost up to $2 million.

When asked about the decision to spend up to $2 million on the band room, Hicks said, “A band room is key to a school’s development.”

“You got to have a good facility,” Hicks said. “We don’t know if it will cost that much. Of course, we want to get the best price we can.”

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