Sweat and sacrifice yield sweet sounds on the field

Maryland Journal


Never mind the persistent drizzle or the mid-October chill that clung to the night air and threatened to zap the oomph out of the crowd.

And never mind that the band members were wearing bulky red slickers in lieu of the fancy maroon-and-black uniforms left hanging in the school as they lined up to take the field for a game-opening rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

As the North Carroll High marching band paraded onto the muddy football field, all that mattered was the music.

On the field, the performance of the national anthem was a mere warm-up for what the band had in store for the rest of the evening.

"They love to play," band director Jamie Horneff said as the student musicians filed off the field and filled row after row of the soggy stands, turning the entire middle section into a sea of red.

"Any opportunity to play, they'll take it," Horneff added.

For the 54 members of North Carroll's band and others across the region, October is high season for their sport - one that requires as much time, energy and sweat as any other competition, many of them are quick to point out.

"It's a sport in every sense, except that you're not playing against one person," said Jeff Malbrough, 17, a senior who plays the bass drums. "You're playing [band to band]."

This time of year, their weeks are filled with hours of rehearsals and pep band duty at school games.

Their weekends are punctuated by regional competitions that draw bands from neighboring states.

And their conversations are peppered with talk of "going to chapters" - the regional competitions - and "making it to Scranton" for the Atlantic Coast Championship next month - the high school marching band equivalent of the Super Bowl.

"[The band is] probably the best team at our school," said Jessi Weaver, a 17-year-old North Carroll senior, in a subtle reference to the school's struggling football team during a recent game.

In a practice-makes-perfect environment - which for North Carroll started with a grueling three-week band camp during the summer - friendships blossom and bonds gel during long hours of exacting rehearsals.

"It's basically a big family," Malbrough said. "You feel like brothers and sisters."

Through it all, they have developed an unwavering commitment to each other, aware that each person must be in step for it all to come together.

"It's like a team sport. You have to be there or it's not going to work," said Emily Schaefer, 14, a freshman on the band's color guard unit. "Everyone has to play their part."

Parents beam with pride as they admire the life lessons their teens are learning on the marching band.

"No one misses practices because it's critical that each person be there. They're out there all for each other," said Mary Romelfanger, a band booster mother who makes many of the color guard's flags and costumes. Her daughter Jennifer, 16, is a sophomore on the color guard unit.

"The kids know if you're out of spot, the whole line is off," said another band parent, Carmela Guthart, whose daughter Alex, 16 and a sophomore, is part of the band's color guard. "They're not willing to do that to each other."

Their attention to detail has been methodically developed in seemingly countless hours of evening practices on the school's parking lot.

As band director Horneff and her assistants weave in and out of the clusters of musicians, they inspect the smallest details: How is everyone's posture? Are their feet positioned properly and moving smoothly through the paces? Are horns hoisted at just the right angles?

"It's all the little things," said Horneff, who recalls the group's first days of practice, when many were learning such basics as taking simple steps backward and then forward while playing an instrument.

On a recent Friday night, the stands were filled with shivering fans during a home game that pitted the North Carroll Panthers against the Century High Knights of Eldersburg.

During the game's first half, drum major John Endres, 16, monitored the plays as he led the band in a series of "jock jams," snippets of fight songs intended to stir up the crowd and encourage the home team.

The band's members, bubbling over with an infectious energy, couldn't seem to sit still - in fact, they didn't. Even from seated positions, they rallied the crowd with dance moves and cheers.

Every now and then, Endres called them to attention.

"Hey guys, get ready up there," said Endres, a junior who plays the tuba, as he kept one eye on the field and another on the band to determine the best times to fill the air with music.

"We've talked to the coaches about good times to come in," he said. "We try to be courteous, but also try to bring in some fun and some noise."

On this night, a grateful crowd ate it up.

"They're really good," said Brad Alban, 17, a North Carroll senior. "Without them, it wouldn't be as entertaining in the stands."

During the band's halftime performance, Endres and his charges gave the crowd a taste of their best - moves they have pulled out at the chapters and that they hope to flaunt in Scranton.

It was an 8 1/2 -minute cartoon-themed production that included an animated rendition of "The Pink Panther."

The crowd seemed to get it, as they swayed in time with the band.

"It's easy to dance to," said Paige Walsh, 17, a North Carroll senior. "It helps the team and the crowd get excited."

And who knows, maybe it even brought a bit of luck to the Panthers, who managed to keep the Knights scoreless on this night and won the game.

But it boils down to one thing for the members of the North Carroll marching band: their music.

"After you've done your absolute best, you're as emotional and exhausted as you could be," said Jeremy Norris, an 11th-grader who plays the mellophone.

"But at the end, there's this energy," he said. "And it's the awesome feeling of having done your best."


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