Douglas High music director Bill Zabelsky resigns after 28 years

UPDATED: Aug. 4, 10:30 p.m. with the new position.

by Joey Crandall,

Frustrated by continued Douglas County School District cutbacks within the music department and presented with a new job opportunity, longtime Douglas High School music director Bill Zabelsky resigned from his position Friday morning.

Bill Zabelsky, with his wife Leslie, accepts the first place trophy for the San Francisco Chinese New Year Parade in 2011
Bill Zabelsky, with his wife Leslie, accepts the first place trophy for the San Francisco Chinese New Year Parade in 2011

The announcement came just days before the Douglas High School marching band was scheduled to begin practice for the fall season.

Zabelsky will start a new job Monday, as the band director at Carson High School.

“It’s a good position in a place with great potential,” Zabelsky said. “The job came open just a couple of weeks ago and I gave it a shot. I knew they would ask me about my age. I’ve been doing this a long time.

“But it just came down to the idea that I’m not ready to retire. If I had been, I would’ve stayed here a few more years. But the conditions changed drastically here. I was ready for a new challenge and I’m very excited about the potential there. I just feel energized about the whole thing.”

Zabelsky has mailed a letter to the current Douglas High music students and parents, which will arrive in the coming week.

In it, he wrote: “I would like to sincerely thank you all for your hard work and dedication to the Douglas High School Music Department. It has truly been an honor to be a part of your children’s lives, and to be a part of this community.

“I’m so proud to see how these students have grown not only as musicians, but to see them become educated young adults throughout the years. This includes my three daughters that actively participated in the music program. Countless trophies, superior ratings and sweepstakes awards have left a legacy that will be hard to duplicate. You, this school and community have meant the world to me.”

He went on to say, “Due to repeated budget cuts, and a complete disregard for music education in this district, I have decided to resign as the DHS Music Director. I have accepted a new position elsewhere. I am sorry for this last minute change, but it was an offer that I could not refuse.”

Zabelsky’s position at the high school had been cut back to 60 percent in the past year, and he filled in the remainder of the schedule by teaching music at Gardnerville Elementary School.  He said the challenges of the past year, coupled with the prospect of the concert choir and the Madrigal singers group being combined into one class period for the upcoming year weighed heavily in his decision-making process.

“As I looked back at my career, it was a very hard decision to make,” he said. “This has been my life. The kids this past year were just incredible. It really was one of my favorite years just in terms of the kids. We had a lot of kids that were beginners on their instruments, but they worked hard and really became a great band. They ended up earning a superior rating at a number of festivals and they won a lot of awards. It was a special group, just in how far they progressed. They were absolutely outstanding.”

At his new position, Zabelsky will direct a marching band, orchestra and jazz band, as well as teaching guitar – all at the high school level.

Zabelsky, a 34-year-veteran of the district, taught general music at Gardnerville Elementary School from 1979 to 1985, when he took over at the helm of the Douglas High School music program.

Over the years, the program became a point of pride for the Valley, with the marching band amassing more than 1,100 awards and appearances around the country including three United States Presidential Inaugural Parades, thousands of regional competitions, several national television appearances and an appearance playing the national anthem at a Major League baseball game.

Zabelsky developed the high school’s Madrigal singers into an elite and award-winning ensemble over the course of 28 years.  He also created the jazz band program, another award-winner many times over, which doubled as the basketball pep band.

The music department had experienced cuts district-wide over the past several years due to budgetary constraints.

“Over the years, there was a deterioration,” Zabelsky said. “There was a time when there was a music teacher at every elementary school and two full-time positions at the middle schools, then a full-time and a part-time at the high school. It was just a continued series of cuts to where this last year, only one school had a full-time music position 100 percent just for that site.”

Zabelsky’s daughter, Sarah Holland, had been the music director at Carson Valley Middle School before leaving for Vacaville, Calif., this summer when her husband, Adam, obtained a job in that area.

“That, personally, was when my heart was out of it,” Zabelsky said. “We’d been a good team, and she was just an outstanding choir director. It was hard to see her go. Tammy Owens at Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School was just terrific to work with too.

“It’s a situation where I know the kids will survive and I know they will be great. I’m so appreciative to the teaching staff at the high school for all their support over the years too.”

Marching band practice, which had been set to start Monday, has been postponed for the time being. Updated information on the search for a new director and the start of practice at Douglas High School will be posted here when it becomes available.

9 thoughts on “Douglas High music director Bill Zabelsky resigns after 28 years

  1. So sad to see this musician, Mr. Z, leave. My son was fortunate to have learned from him. And Sarah left too. A big blow to music education in our county.

    1. Grateful to Mr. Z for his hours of dedication in behalf of the DHS students and especially my two children who learned so much from him as Madrigals singers. MR. Z will be missed and wherever he is going is very lucky to have him! Our loss is their GAIN!

    1. Bravo! You can do this! So impressed by the band’s response to a surprising and challenging situation! You go!

  2. After the district kept him working with a good salary through tough times, including paying 100% of his retirement, Mr. Z decides to throw in the towel and show the children that when life gets hard you can always just quit.

    1. This man has been a dedicated to this program and to this community for a very long time. Take a long look at your own back yard before playing judge. Mr. Z made a decision for his life, which we all do at one point or another. I have no criticism for him, only thank yous!

  3. Mr. Z you will be so missed. I loved being part of the Douglas High Marching Band if only a couple of years. Going to DC with you and the band was one of highlights of my life. I wish you much success in your new position.

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