Good News: Blind student marches with South Effingham HS band

Good News: Blind student marches with South Effingham HS band

EFFINGHAM COUNTY, Ga. (WTOC) - On Friday nights this fall, Austin Wegmann will go everywhere Dean Burgess tells him to.

"He makes sure that I am doing the right thing, that I’m in the right spot,'' Wegmann said. "But I know what I’m supposed to do.''

Austin is a freshman at South Effingham High School and just like every other student in the Mustangs marching band. Except he’s blind.

He lost his eyesight at the age of four to a degenerative corneal disease that typically effects older adults.

"I just know I went to sleep one night and I could see fine.'' he says. "And I woke up the next morning and everything was blurry and I just couldn’t anymore.''

But Austin has had one vision since first picking up a trumpet four years ago.

"Once he figured out what he was going to play, he wanted to talk to me because he wanted to do marching band,'' South Effingham High School band director Sean McBride said. "He was telling me about it when he was in fifth grade before he even officially started.''

"He has without a doubt. since the 6th grade, that has been his goal,'' adds Austin's mother, Stephanie Wegmann. "In the back of my mind, I was constantly thinking, please let something else replace that goal. Because I was afraid of the challenge.''

Austin, who advanced at trumpet so quickly that he is in an accelerated music class as a freshman, did not share those concerns

"It just seemed like something I wanted to do and I just heard a lot of good things about it and the people in it.'' he says. "Plus, just getting to play is fun, so if I get to play, I’m going to do it. I was more like, how are we going to get it done?''

"We had to figure out the best way to do it,'' added McBride. "So, we did research, we reached out to people we knew who had visual impairments.''

And they found a solution right at home in South Effingham senior Dean Burgess, who gave up his final year of playing in band to serve as Austin’s guide on the field.

He directs Austin by hand through a routine to keep position with the rest of the band.

"The first time I met Austin, he was in sixth grade and when I heard he was blind, I said, that’s amazing,'' says Burgess. "And I said if he ever joins marching band, since then I have wanted to guide him.''

The pair has been working on a system since the middle of July.

"We use a series of touches on the back,'' says McBride. "And they use clock facings and things like that to help each other out.''

"I usually just use my thumb during practice,'' added Burgess. "I'll ask him if he's doing good, he'll ask what the next set is so I can set his feet.''

The arrangement has even settled Austin’s mother’s nerves.

"Dean,'' she says, "was a God send to us trying to figure it all out.''

And when the Mustangs band hits the field for the first time at a game Friday night, there’s a good chance no one will figure out that one member of the band can’t see where he’s going. But Austin will know he’s in the only place he wanted to be.

"I’m ready for that,'' he says. "It’s time to start.''

"He’s just one of the kids out there,'' added McBride. "He’s just uniform. He’s exactly what we teach the kids, we’re all one big group out there, one team, one family. You may catch it here or there if you know what you’re looking for, but if it’s you’re first time seeing the show, he’s just part of the band.''

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