Some of the award-winning Patterson High School band's instruments look as if they've been dropped off the back of a speeding truck. They're not only old, but dented, and some simply don't work.
And finding money to travel to competitions is difficult for the band, too.
So, band members, their parents and friends have tried to raise money to complement whatever the school system provides. A Patterson fund-raiser shortly before last Christmas generated about $2,600 toward the cost of traveling to Virginia Beach this month for a national competition.
And then the money was stolen.
Today, the 57 members of the concert band, whose dedication seems to be matched only by that of Harry Watkins, the music teacher and band director, are still struggling to overcome the theft and make up the money that was stolen.
"It's hurting us a lot right now," said Kelly Arnold, an alto sax player and 17-year-old junior at the East Baltimore school.
"Everyone was very disappointed, very hurt," added Anastasia Kangelidis, a 15-year-old freshman who plays the flute.
The theft remains unsolved, school officials said. The money was stolen from a locked file cabinet in the band office.
But band members say overcoming the theft and entering the Virginia Beach competition is important for their self-esteem. They also want to do it for Mr. Watkins, 41, who has been at the school four years. They speak of him as if they will remember him and the lessons he has taught long after graduation.
"He'll do anything for us," said senior Roger Main, 18, who serves as Mr. Watkins' assistant. Mr. Main plays French horn and trumpet and is a percussionist in the band.
Rose Guinto, a member of the band's newly formed booster club, said Mr. Watkins frequently goes the extra mile for students, sometimes visiting their homes to help counsel them about college or a career. Her 18-year-old son, Scott, a percussionist in the band, "has learned to become a team person," she said.
In return, Mr. Watkins said, the students "have shown such dedication that I can't let them down, just as they don't want to let me down."
The band members come to school an hour early every day to practice. Players in a smaller jazz group, made up of the members of the concert band, also stay an hour late each day to practice.
And the work has paid off, Mr. Watkins said at the end of a morning practice yesterday. In national competitions the past two years, the concert band won first place for its level. (Levels are based on the difficulty of the music.) The jazz band took first place last year.
On Wednesday, the band presented two benefit concerts -- one for students during the day and another for parents and others in the community.
The benefits went well, Mr. Watkins said, but the band is still about $1,600 short of the money it needs to enter the Virginia competition, scheduled May 14-17. If all members were to go to Virginia -- not all will -- it would cost nearly $14,000, or $245 a student.
Tomorrow , the band is holding a car wash at the McDonald's at 2222 Dundalk Ave. from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The theft will not beat the band, Mr. Watkins said, and it will not stop the students from going for the gold again in Virginia Beach. "We're going to go."
Anyone interested in contributing money for the band's Virginia trip or other needs can call Alice Harris, president of the band's booster club, at 342-1937.