Mike and Jeannie Lunney built the Wylie band program into one of the best in the state and earned the love and respect of bands students and parents in the process.
So their retirements last spring came as a major surprise to the Wylie community. Their selection to the Wylie Hall of Honor, on the other hand, is no surprise at all.
“They are very deserving,” says former student and former co-worker Luke McMillan. “Mike is one of those superhuman people who you can go to, and they will always have the answer. Jeannie just had a genuine love for each individual student and would do anything for them.”
The Lunneys met while students at Midwestern State University and started their careers directing bands at different schools and commuting, before joining forces at Holliday.
Then in 1998, Wylie band director Louis Thornton retired, and Mrs. Lunney saw an opportunity.
“I was content in Holliday,” Mr. Lunney said. “Jeannie is the one who pushed me to apply. It was the greatest thing I ever did, but if it had not been for her pushing, I would have retired at Holliday.”
Austin was 4 at the time, and Mrs. Lunney said she wanted him to go to school at Wylie.
“Wylie had a great reputation,” she said. “It was a good school system. We knew Austin was going to be starting school. We did not regret any of it. He got the best education he could have gotten anywhere.”
Austin was also the reason the Lunneys stayed at Wylie when other opportunities arose.
“We could have moved up to a 6A band,” Mrs. Lunney said. “Austin was the reason we didn’t.”
Austin graduated from Wylie in 2012 and is now a second-year medical student at Texas Tech in Lubbock.
Although the Lunneys are now beloved by the Wylie community, they weren’t as popular during that first year at Wylie. Thornton had been successful and well liked. He was a hard act to follow.
One morning, the Lunneys woke up to find their yard full of “For Sale” signs. Students had pulled realtor signs from yards all across town and put them in the Lunneys’ yard.
Mrs. Lunney said the resistance was tough at first.
“We were fought so hard our first year,” she said. “It was such a hard transition. I remember saying, ‘We will outlive them in this program.’ ”
McMillan was a senior at the time and remembers it well.
“For me, it was a dream,” he said. “Mr. Lunney came in, and he cracked the whip. He was like, ‘We are going to play music, and we are going to play it at a high level.’ I was like, ‘Thank You!’ You can see how it might have been tough for normal band kids.”
The Lunneys survived that year and went on to make a very good band program great. During their 19 years at the helm, the high school band earned Division 1 honors in Marching Band every year, extending a streak started by Thornton to 30 years in a row. Mr. Lunney also earned Division 1 ratings in concert competition 18 of his 19 years, and the Junior High band earned Division 1 ratings all 19 years that Mrs. Lunney directed it.
The Lunneys also took the band to State Marching Contest six times, including the last five opportunities in a row. (Marching bands can only go to state every other year.)
Prior to the Lunneys arrival, the band had only been to state once in its history.
But the Lunneys don’t consider those accolades as their biggest accomplishment.
“Those are all great accomplishments, but it’s neat to see the students who pursued band directing as a career,” Mr. Lunney said. “There’s a whole lot of them. I think that’s a cool thing. Hopefully, we had a little piece of that. It means a lot to us because our own personal directors meant so much to us.”
McMillan is one of those former students as is Michelle Lessing, who took over for the Lunneys in the Wylie band program.
The Lunneys said they tried hard to teach their students about more than just music.
“We were just trying to teach them how to be good citizens,” Mr. Lunney said. “We just wanted them to be great people, and we wanted to be a good example for them in how to do that.”
Mrs. Lunney felt so strongly about teaching good citizenship that she would have her Junior High band do community service each year.
“I wanted to teach the kids that there was more to life than them,” she said. “I wanted the kids to see the value of doing things for other people – it’s the right thing to do.”
She said she also tried to make the band an accepting atmosphere.
“Music was a byproduct of wanting the kids to always feel loved and that family meant everything,” she said. “We were a family.”
The pair also brought a strong work ethic to their programs and had high expectations for their students.
“I always said, ‘They might outscore us, but they aren’t going to outwork us,’ ” Mr. Lunney said.
Mrs. Lunney had a similar philosophy at the Junior High.
“She held her students to a very high standard and didn’t accept anything less than that,” McMillan said. “She expected nothing but excellence.”
Mr. Lunney also played an important role in making the band an integral part of the Friday night football experience.
“To impact the flow of the game, we had Luke write special music, called Dark Forces,” Mr. Lunney said. “The whole purpose of that was to be loud.”
The band became known for playing the music when the opposing team was facing critical 3rd or 4th down plays during a game. Last year, the band even drew a penalty.
“That was the highlight of my career to get a 15-yard penalty for playing too loud,” Mr. Lunney said. “That was a proud moment.”
Ironically, the fact that Lunney was committed to having a strong football band likely cost him the ability to ever win a State Marching Contest. UIL wanted concerts on the field, Mr. Lunney said. Other programs in the state were picking the best students and creating competition bands specifically to win the prestigious marching competition.
That wasn’t something the Lunneys were willing to do.
“It excludes too many people,” Mr. Lunney said. “As long as we could squeeze them in one band hall, we were going to keep it together. We didn’t want to take that dive and give up all we have.”
Mr. Lunney said they are very humbled to be selected for the Hall of Honor.
“We just felt like we were doing what we were taught to do as band directors,” he said. “We just did our job. It is very humbling. It makes us proud to see the band, the culture of the band, the musical ability of the band. We want it to always be a big part of Wylie.”