by ELIZABETH ENDERLE - American Pie sponsors share how they became a part of Pie and why they do it.
WESTFIELD, Ind. (May 2019) - Behind the phenomena of American Pie are four of WHS’s most cherished teachers: Mr. Joel Bruns, Mr. Mark Ewing, Mr. Jeff McLaughlin and Mrs. Jennifer Hasler Troutman, more commonly known by her Spanish students as HT. American Pie has had an astronomical impact on WHS, but what is the story behind Pie, and why has it continued to be a staple of the WHS landscape?
Every story has a beginning. For the story of Pie, it begins with HT.
“I was still a college student when Pie started for me,” HT said. “I student-taught at Columbus North, and one of the projects that I had to do there was a historical perspective of the school and the community. I had to ask students…‘What is something that I won’t understand Columbus North if I don’t experience it?’ and almost everyone’s answer was ‘American Pie!’ I made sure I got tickets for it and drove over from Bloomington to make sure I got to be a part of American Pie at Columbus North and fell in love in that moment and decided that some day, when I’m teaching in my future school, I hope we’ll be able to do this.”
To get Pie started, HT needed the perfect team, and she found her first partners in Mr. Ewing and Mr. Friedrich.
“It all started when Mrs. Hasler Troutman and I went to Cincinnati on a school trip together,” Mr. Ewing said. “In that discussion she found out how I teach my U.S. History classes and how I use so much music and pop culture influences to do my class and so she said, ‘I’ve been sitting on an idea. It’s something that I’ve wanted to bring to WHS, and I feel like you’re the person that can help me put this together,’ so we issued a call to anyone who would have an interest, and then Mr. Friedrich, who was one of our Special ED teachers, had expressed an interest in doing it, so then that kind of started the process. We went to Columbus North, and we watched one of the shows and thought, ‘You know, this is something we feel like we can do at WHS.’”
Mr. Ewing initially invited Mr. Bruns, who now works mostly with the design and production elements of the show, onto the scene for a very different reason.
“The first American Pie that I took part in...was the ‘80s,” Mr. Bruns said. “[Mr. Ewing] wanted to do a Beastie Boys song, so he asked me and Mr. Morse if we would be the other two of the Beastie Boys, and I said, ‘Yeah. Why not?’”
Mr. McLaughlin also found his start in Pie III, which focused on the theme of music of the 1980s.
“They needed a house band leader at that point, so they asked me if I would come and if I would organize a house band because the one from the first two years wasn’t able to do it anymore, so I gladly stepped in,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “I just had a blast doing it.”
For these teachers, American Pie goes beyond allowing teens to perform some of the most memorable rock and roll hits from the last six decades.
“It’s just a really cool opportunity to see the school come together in a different way, where we’re learning, but it’s outside of the classroom,” HT said. “It just feels like an authentic way to show what you know and what your talents are that isn’t on a piece of paper or a test. All of the hard work is always worth it when the students walk off stage with huge smiles on their faces and the auditorium clapping for them. I think it’s those smiles, it’s that moment of ‘I did it!’ and seeing that look on people’s faces.”
Mr. Ewing agreed that seeing what the students accomplish is his favorite part of Pie.
“I can look back on students who you may not expect to have the talent they possess and then giving them that platform and that opportunity to just share that talent and the God-given abilities that they’ve been blessed with and the opportunity to present those and perform those is such an amazing thing to be a part of and to see,” Mr. Ewing said. “To truly have the experience of watching somebody realize their full potential on stage and then just get the applause and recognition for that is just such an awesome thing.”
For Mr. McLaughlin, the process of Pie is something he finds particularly unique and something that makes Pie all the more special for him.
“I think seeing the students so empowered and encouraged,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “I know that’s a very big highlight. I think you have such a very different group of students so it’s cool to see. It starts out very much separate because they’re rehearsing, they’re doing their own thing for weeks and months, but then during the week of, it just all comes together, and you can really see the big picture.”
Mr. Bruns found that this process builds a distinct energy as the Pie Days approach.
“It’s not like anything else,” Mr. Bruns said. “It’s such an adrenaline rush especially this week, being in the LGI and we have more people together all at one time. That sort of energy and it’s always so positive, and just really just everybody’s juiced up and cheering each other on and that’s what you do it for. It’s just so fun to be a part of that energy, and we have so many talented students that just getting to listen to the students performing, that’s awesome.”
The positive and open community of Pie was a strong reason for some of the sponsors’ involvement.
“The positive community that it provides for me and for so many students--I know that it’s a highlight for so many students,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “For some students, it’s like the only thing they really are involved outside of school, it’s the only extracurricular thing that they do, and it enables them to be part of a community… where this eclectic mix of talents can be showcased and encouraged and empowered in a way that wouldn’t be otherwise.”
Unfortunately, Pie’s founding sponsor, HT, will be taking a break from the concert in the coming year.
“I was just so sick last summer, for an extended period of time, and most people didn’t know how sick I was,” HT said. “One of the things in my mind was ‘I hope I can do [Pie]. I hope I’m well enough to do it.’ It was awesome to be able to do it, but...the doctor said, ‘You need to get rid of stress,’ and so I know that this is one of the things I need to take a break from so I can completely heal.”
Although HT’s presence will be sorely missed at Pie next year, it’s obvious that she and the other sponsors have created an opportunity with American Pie that could never fade away. Mr. Ewing summed up what the true “Why?” is for all of these teachers perfectly:
“The opportunity to really see kids have that opportunity to shine: that’s why I teach,” Mr. Ewing said. “I view that my purpose is to help other people find theirs, and I think this is one of those opportunities to allow kids to do that. The connections that I get to make with the students, and then being in such an amazingly positive, caring and supportive environment with everything from the other staff members who do it to just everybody who’s a part of it. It really is a family and a connection that I look forward to each and every year.”