Zack Riley and Kolby Kelly didn’t know each other while band students at Lamar High School but knew of one another.
Riley was the young, up-and-coming French Horn guy and Kelly the veteran upper class percussion dude, and while they orbited the same band rooms and game-day field marching and competitions and are-you-kidding-me days practicing on blistering-hot asphalt, it’s not as though they were joined at the hip.
Nowadays, you can rarely speak about Zack without Kolby or Kolby without Zack since this reunion tour arrived on the Lamar faculty as assistant band directors under the veteran director Alan Lang.
The fact that Lang was their band director when they were mere schoolboys exemplifies life north of I-30, where the degrees of separation appear to be razor thin.
North Arlington, particularly as you move westward, is so close-knit that it’s not cliché to say, like Riley and Kelly, if you don’t know him or her it is very likely someone mighty close to you does.
Much has been made of Riley and Kelly being Arlington ISD alums now back teaching at the same school where they learned a bulk of what they now impart, but after talking to them, what I found most intriguing was less that, and more of the notion of staying put to help keep a community alive and thriving.
Two years into a teaching job in Frisco, Kelly bought a house – in Arlington – just two blocks from Lamar. As if the clouds were parting, the Lamar job opened up a week later.
“I had no plans of leaving the Frisco job,” Kelly says. “But it was like the stars kind of aligning.”
They were. When Kelly finished at OU he taught at Boswell High School in Saginaw, hired by a former Lamar band teacher.
“I know, I know,” Kelly says. “This crazy circle of Lamar people.”
Anyone who has participated in band or knows someone who has understands its time consumption. For band students, there’s sleep – and then there’s band.
“It consumes me, definitely,” says Riley. “But in a good way.”
It has to. And does for these two, as their career trajectory points out. Riley graduated from UNT in Music Education where he performed in the Concert Band, Wind Ensemble and the Green Brigade, becoming a section leader.
Kelly is a University of Oklahoma grad who performed with the Pride of Oklahoma, the OU Basketball Band, Wind Symphony, Percussion Orchestra and OU Steel Band.
Under his guidance at Liberty High in Frisco, the percussion group gained recognition in a number of drumline contests at the UIL/TIMEA events.
“When I was a junior, I felt it could go somewhere,” Riley says of music. “I said I really like music and really like band, so I started researching options and decided that teaching would be the bet way to make it be a big chunk of my life.”
Of course, he could have gone anywhere. Or just stayed up there in Frisco.
Wait. One more Lamar family thing.
Riley’s best girl buddy – yeah, from Lamar – brought lunch over to him during one of those long rehearsal days at the school. She started up a conversation with Kelly, and is now marrying the guy next April.
Kelly won’t have to travel far to visit with the In-Laws. They live on the same street where he grew up.
Oddly, Riley is getting hitched, too, next May.
Yep. A few weeks apart.
“With teaching music, there’s this golden window of time,” Kelly says, explaining the closeness in wedding dates. “Fall is incredibly busy. Winter is too cold. Summer is super busy. So March 15 to about May 15 is probably okay to get it done.”
Although, Riley chimes in, “even during those dates you have UIL Spring Competitions. Jazz band. So, really, in that golden time period, I’d say roughly two or three weekends.”
Thankfully they have understanding fiancés.
It’s a Lamar thing, of course.
“Almost half of my groomsmen have some connection to Lamar,” Riley says. “You meet people here and it lasts a lifetime.”