I know it's a bit of an unusual instrument but I started playing handbells in grade school. We had a 3 octave set at the church where I went to school and when you were in 7th and 8th grade, you could join the student handbell choir.
Handbells are a unique instrument. Some would say it's easy to learn because generally, you're only in charge of two notes (one for each hand). What these people fail to realize is that you're trying to play your two notes at the same time and rhythm as everyone else (so a director is extremely important). The other thing with handbells is that if you need a sharp or a flat, you have to switch bells. Sometimes this requires a lot of planning if the composer wrote in some crazy sharp/flat quick changes for your two notes. It also makes it interesting if you're sharing a bell between two people (like I have D and you have E, we share D#/Eb). This is why I like the Malmark bells because they are color coded like piano keys.
You also do so much more things with bells than just plain ringing. You can hit them with mallets. You can swing them behind your back. You can pluck them. You can smash them into the table (don't worry, it's padded).
So, I played handbells in 7th and 8th grade. Then, I played with the adult handbell choir at church when I was a freshman and went to my first bell festival (very very deafening but extremely fun).
Then, my high school decided to buy a 5 octave set of bells. I was one of the first members of the choir. We practiced 3 hours a week. I don't think the rest of the music department respected us (we were the new kids on the block compared to the show choir, the contemporary Christian group and the band ensembles) until we returned from the solo/ensemble festival with a 1st at state in our first year. I don't think since that time, the choir has ever not had a 1st at state. I know I have three medals for each year that I did it hanging on my wall.
To make things more interesting, I was the "floater" which meant if someone didn't show up, I played their bells.
Another thing that people don't consider is the time and effort it takes to set up your 5 octaves of handbells. We have 6 tables with table pads, 9 cases containing 61 handbells, music stands and other things like mallets. We got to the point that we could set up the whole setup in about 5 minutes (use to get compliments on that). The cases are also extremely heavy once you get to the large bells which weigh 10 lbs apiece.
Based on the comments today, click on this link to hear my favorite handbell piece.