Ex-band director’s guilt on sex charges leaves Mason stunned

On New Year's Day the leader of the Mason High School marching band revelled in being part of the globally televised Rose Parade in California.

Ten months later the former school band director's next significant audience will be before an Ohio judge who will sentence the nationally acclaimed band leader for pleading guilty last week to two counts of sexual battery against a teenage girl at his previous band job with Fairborn City Schools.

Former Mason High School marching band director Robert Bass’ plummet from that international fame to his unexpected retirement in June from Mason Schools — followed by his recent confession of guilt — has left this suburban Warren County community stunned.

The Rose Parade performance was historic — Mason is one of only two Southwest Ohio high school bands to earn an invite — and a source of pride for the community.

So some school parents were shocked when Mason City Schools Superintendent Gail Kist-Kline sent out an email on Aug. 26 to them stating: “After 4 p.m. (today), we learned that former (Mason High School) Band Director Bob Bass pled guilty in Green County, Ohio to two counts of sexual battery. He was charged with having an inappropriate relationship with a student at his former school district 20 years ago. Mr. Bass retired from Mason City Schools on June 1, 2016.”

“For all of us who knew Mr. Bass, this is a shock. We have no allegations of any inappropriate conduct while in Mason, but this offense is significant — and one we take seriously,” wrote Kist-Kline.

Mason band parents are still reeling from the news.

“We were really surprised to hear about it,” said Mason band parent Jennifer Pottner after a recent practice. “But I’m hoping though the band can skip right over it.”

But returning to normalcy may be made more difficult, said other band parents — who declined to speak on the record — because Bass’ successor as marching band director is his wife, Mason music teacher Susan Bass.

Robert Bass, 54, is out on bond and is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 19, according to online records for Greene County Common Pleas Court.

The case involved an inappropriate relationship with a 17-year-old girl who was a band student between Jan. 1, 1996, and June 1, 1996, while Bass was employed as the band director for Fairborn High School near Dayton, according to Fairborn police.

Detectives began an investigation on April 3 when the department was notified of a possible sex offense involving Bass, police said.

He has declined to comment.

His resignation letter to Mason school officials in June gave no hint of trouble.

“It has been amazing to work with incredible students, staff and administration at Mason High School for the past 18 years. I wish to thank each and every one who has inspired me, mentored me, and assisted me to be the teacher I am today. On June 1, 2016, I have decided to retire as a teacher in the Mason City School District for personal reasons. Thank you to all and I know I leave the very best school system, the very best band, with great teachers, parents, and most importantly, incredible students. Go Comets!”

Bass was hired by Mason Schools in 1998 and transformed its 76-member marching band into a national musical powerhouse.

In 2014 the 313-member band and color guard earned a prestigious invite to perform in the 2016 Rose Parade in Pasadena, Calif. Only 20 American high school bands are invited each year, and the Mason band performed before a global TV audience of 79 million.

In many ways the parade was the apex of Bass’ impressive music career, which includes election as one of only 30 high school band directors in America to join the membership of the American Bandmasters Association (ABA).

Mason School officials said a national search for a permanent band director will begin in January.

Susan Bass did not respond to request to comment.

Records obtained through a Journal-News public records request showed that in part due to the unusual succession, Mason School officials stated in a June 27 letter to Robert Bass: “I want to remind you that you are not to have any contact with any Mason City Schools students, nor attend any Mason City Schools events on or off district property.”

Pottner remains optimistic Bass’ legal woes will not deter the Mason marching band from remaining one of the nation’s premier programs.

“I don’t think a transgression from 20 years ago at another school will have any effect on our band today,” she said, adding “this is a wonderful, wonderful band program.”

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