2024 Hall of Fame Inductee Jeff Huffman’s Journey with WGI

2024 Hall of Fame Inductee Jeff Huffman’s Journey with WGI

By Mikey McGuire

From a little auditorium in Dayton before WGI Percussion existed, to the WGI Hall Of Fame, Jeff Huffman has been around since the beginning. Huffman attended Center Grove High School, and with the help of instructor Jay Webb, he got bit by the indoor percussion bug.

“Jay taught me in high school. I went to Center Grove, and Jay was teaching percussion while he was in college at Butler,” Huffman said. So, Jay instilled a passion in me for this activity.”

The activity was in its infancy, so educators like Huffman and Webb were tasked with building the programs and the activity from its foundations.

“WGI percussion didn’t exist when I started teaching, so it was kind of ground-up, making mistakes and learning while teaching smaller programs,” Huffman said.

“When I started, I taught many different programs. In fact, one of those programs was Avon High School, but it wasn’t nearly as developed back then. That’s where I kind of cut my teeth, learning what I wanted my approach to teaching to be. Whether it was writing, show design, or another outlet of creation, that’s how I learned about building the foundation of a program.”

In a multi-decade career like Huffman’s, you are bound to face a load of hardships. Teaching at his alma mater, Center Grove High School, proved very difficult after an uneasy start to the season in 2006. Coming off a gold medal year and confident in his students, Huffman made the call to rewrite all but 45 seconds of the show mid-season.

“We started the season with a version of the show that wasn’t working. I felt I was doing the students a disservice by not giving them a high-quality program.” Huffman said. “Those kids learned a new show in two weeks. We went to the next regional with basically a new program, and it was a really tough, bumpy ride there for a little bit. But after we got the show right for the kids, they loved it. That ended up being the second of the back-to-back World-Class gold medals for Center Grove.”

Off the floor, Huffman has a wife, Sarah, who has an illustrious teaching career in her own right, and two children. In 2023, Huffman got to watch his oldest daughter take the floor for Center Grove as a featured dancer in their Black Swan-inspired program, ‘Uncaged.’

“I don’t know if I can say that anything has ever or will ever top that,” Huffman said. “Being able to watch my daughter dance at WGI, where she kind of grew up through the activity. She’s just spent a lot of her childhood coming with us to rehearsals and getting to watch her down there, experiencing that in the arena, in front of that crowd. I mean, that’s just an experience you can’t explain. Her getting to have that experience was pretty amazing.”

At the end of the day, this activity is about having fun; for Huffman, that idea resonates with how he approaches teaching after all these years.

“I feel like my focus has always been to approach teaching from a music-first perspective and then get into the overall enjoyment of the student. Make sure that they enjoy what they’re doing and that they have bought in and are excited about the process.” Huffman said. “It’s more about the experience of it all for the staff and the students involved, and I think that there’s always more payoff in that, regardless of any score outcome. I’ve never really focused on that as an end goal; it’s more just a part of the process. Ultimately, whatever the result is at the end of the season, I want everybody to say they had a great time.”

WGI is honoring Huffman and his many achievements in the activity with induction into the WGI Hall of Fame. Huffman now sits alongside many of his influences from the early days of the activity.

“It’s amazing to me that I get to be in that group of teachers and instructors that I’ve looked up to over the years, you know. Individuals like Neil Larrivee, Tom Aungst, Scott Johnson, and Jim Wunderlich are guys that I watched in those early years of WGI, and to be in that crowd is quite an honor. It’s a very humbling feeling.”