MINNEAPOLIS – The opening round of the Minnesota State High School Boys Basketball Tournament is no time for a twisted ankle. But into the Target Center concourse limps Thomas Bidne, a boot on his left foot and drumsticks clutched in his right hand.
Clinging to Thomas’ other hand is his mother, Laura Bidne, who says, “Thomas looked at the nurse and said, ‘I need to be able to play in the band tonight.’”
Then Thomas did exactly that, despite his injury and despite the fact that Thomas is eight years old.
Since January, the second grader has been playing a bass drum in the Jackson County Central High School band.
“Thomas is like a real inspiration to our whole school,” says a JCC student, cheering for the Huskies at state.
What’s inspiring to students, is not just that an 8-year-old is drumming, but that the little drummer boy couldn’t have started life much tinier.
Thomas and his twin sister Julia were delivered at 27 weeks, after a difficult pregnancy. Thomas was the smallest of the pair, weighing in at a pound-and-a-half.
Surgeries followed, as did one particularly close call.
“The nurse looked at me and said I think it’s time to baptize him if that’s what you want to do,” recalls Laura Bidne.
With too little blood flowing to Thomas’ brain before he was born, and nearly a year in the hospital after, his parents knew Thomas would face cognitive challenges his healthy sister would never know.
It took some time before they discovered their son’s uncanny sense of rhythm.
It started with Thomas tapping on toys. One home video shows Thomas keeping beat to the National Anthem with both hands rhythmically tapping the roof of his toy barn.
“He has the beat, yep, he knows the beat,” says his father, Mike Bidne.
When Thomas’ parents bought him a toy drum last Christmas, home video captured Thomas drumming, with wrapping paper still on the floor and Thomas still in his pajamas.
“At first we thought he was playing,” says his mom. “And I said, ‘Mike, he’s playing the school song.’”
Half joking, Laura Bidne, who teaches at the high school, sent a video of Thomas playing the JCC school song to band director Erica Colby.
Colby wasted no time.
“I just said, ‘Hey, why don’t you come join us.’” Colby envisioned Thomas sitting in with his toy drum on the school song. She did not expect him to quickly learn the entire band playlist.
“He listened to a song five, ten seconds and he was able to figure it out and keep a beat,” Colby says.
Thomas’ first appearance with the band went so well Colby invited him back. “’Yeah, but I’m gonna play one of the big drums next time,’” Colby recalls the second-grader telling her. “He was ready for the big leagues.”
Thomas’s new bandmates were no less impressed.
“I’m a freshman this year so I didn’t really know the songs that well,” says percussionist Jordann Schneekloth. “And he starts playing all the songs perfect, and we all kind of look at him like, really?”
There’s an added sense of wonder for Thomas’ parents. Just a few years ago, Thomas was highly sensitive to loud noises, refusing to even enter the high school gym during games and covering his ears when he relented.
“It was crying and, ‘Take me home, take me home,’” says his mom.
Now Thomas sits with the drummers in the loudest section of the loudest place in the gym.
He still struggles with school work that Julia aces, but Julia can’t begin to do what her brother does with a drum.
“I always wanted him to have something that was his, that he was good at no matter what it was, to just kind of fit in and be part of something,” Laura Bidne says. “And I think the band is it.”
Sprained ankle and all, Thomas Bidne is beating expectations.