High school marching band member, blind since birth, inspires with humility

St. Xavier freshman Andrew Gillespie is marching to the same beat as everyone else... and loving every second of it.
Published: Nov. 10, 2021 at 10:12 PM EST
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CINCINNATI (WXIX) - One of the best stories from this high school football season comes from a St. Xavier student who isn’t letting a lack of sight ruin the vision of what he wants to be.

Andrew Gillespie is, first and foremost, a musician. More than a pastime, music is a mode of therapy for him, a way of interacting with the world.

It’s been that way since Andrew was very young. Born with bilateral retinal dysplasia, Andrew has been blind since birth. Initially, that made finding activities in which he could participate as a child difficult, according to his father, Ben Gillespie.

“We tried band camp, just to say, ‘Ok, how can we do this?’ ...Just to say, ‘You know, can we make this work? Is this something we can do for Andrew?’” Ben said. “And it worked.”

Did it ever. Don’t mind the fact that Andrew, as a teenager, has little trouble playing two instruments at once. Consider instead the praise of St. Xavier Band Director Dr. Jode Besse, who calls Andrew’s play “outstanding.”

Also consider that every Friday night during football season, Andrew dresses in the garb of the St. Xavier High School marching band—plume, epaulets and all—and marches as a trumpeter with his bandmates.

Just don’t ask him to toot his own horn about it. For Andrew, whatever success he enjoys seems to be about him least of all.

“I feel like people might be inspired by what I’ve done,” Andrew said. “But I feel like it’s more of a testament [to] everyone else, what they’ve been able to help me with and what they’re willing to go through.”

More from the humble freshman: “I like the music. I like the marching. But the people have just made this more than I could imagine it would ever be.”

Those other people include the visual impairment teacher who works with Andrew in school. Also, Dr. Besse, who puts his hand on Andrew’s shoulder to guide him through the choreographed marches.

“When I do have the opportunity, particularly when they’re mainly playing and standing still, then I can step back and have a better chance to hear him play,” Besse said. “He’s an outstanding musician as well as... He just wants to be one of the guys.”

Ben celebrates both in equal measure when he sees his son on the field.

“You know, a lot of people say they find inspiration in having Andrew come out and do marching band and be seen. And while folks may find inspiration in that—and it is heartwarming, I get it—for me, allowing him to have a normal life is the best gift,” Ben said. “I’m being cheesy, but being his dad, when I see him out there and I see him succeeding, it brings a tear to my eyes. Every time.”

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