Polished acts: D-FW bands dazzle judges at state finals

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

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WACO — Christopher Franks had to wipe away the start of a tear when he thought about it.

“To a lot of us, this may be the most meaningful thing we’ve ever done,” said the 17-year-old drum major for the L.D. Bell High School marching band. “It’s all your work for years and all your emotions compressed into eight minutes.”

On Monday, 52 schools from around the state sent their musical best to Waco, where, in eight-minute performances, they put all their hard work on the line. For the musically inclined, the 2000 State Marching Band Contest was like the Super Bowl, World Series and the Rate-a-Record segment of American Bandstand all rolled into one.

The final round of the competition was Monday night. Of the nine Dallas-area schools competing in the Class 5A division, four – Richardson Berkner, Duncanville, The Colony and Hurst Bell – made it past Monday morning’s preliminary round.

All of the area 3A schools competing – Aledo, Canton and Castleberry – made the cut. Canton placed second, Castleberry third and Aledo sixth. Of the 15 bands still standing Monday night, seven were from the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

The 3A and 5A schools compete in even-numbered years, with 1A, 2A and 4A taking odd-numbered years.

In the 5A division, L.D. Bell from the Hurst-Euless-Bedford district placed first, Duncanville second, The Colony fifth and Berkner seventh.

Although some schools known for their band programs are regulars at state, the presence of Carrollton’s Newman Smith High School was something of a surprise.

When the Carrollton-Farmers Branch school district opened Creekview High School in 1998, the school absorbed some of Newman Smith’s students. That change left Newman Smith’s student population temporarily unbalanced, with 374 seniors and 739 freshmen.

As a result, the Newman Smith marching band was the smallest competing in 5A Monday and possibly the youngest. Of the 100 students who marched, 12 were seniors, with more than 70 freshmen and sophomores.

“It’s the little band that could,” said Cindy Jackson, proud band mom to freshman trumpeter Allie.

Terry Kay, mother of senior drum major Whitney and freshman mellophonist Trevor, was more than a little bit nervous.

“Honey, I’ve been shaking all the way here,” she said before the band performed. “I’m a wreck.” Several parents reported being unable to eat breakfast.

The moms expressed their worries: Would the band, used to artificial-turf fields, perform well on the grass of Baylor’s Floyd Casey Stadium? Would the stadium’s acoustics amplify the small band’s sound?

Would the children be as nervous as the parents?

Fifteen-year-old Newman Smith band member Zasil Oriedo said she copes with her nerves by pulling her marching band hat as far down as it can go, just over her eyes. “That blocks out the audience,” she said.

Shortly before 9 a.m., band members rolled their xylophone, kettledrums, marimba and gong onto the field. The band itself soon followed, to screams of “That’s my baby!” from the Newman Smith cheering section.

The eight-minute performance featured some spirited playing and intricate marches. But in the end, the damp turf took its toll. Two musicians fell at inopportune times, and a few flags dropped midtwirl. The miscues kept Newman Smith from making the finals.

Few seemed too upset. “We didn’t have any pretense we were probably going to be finalists,” band director Bill Centera said.

“The kids were super. I never dreamed we’d get this far. The goal was to build a foundation for the future, not necessarily to do this well now.”

He said band members would watch bigger, more-experienced bands to see where they need to aim.

An hour after Newman Smith’s performance, it was time for Duncanville High School to take the field. If Newman Smith’s is a Cinderella story, Duncanville’s is a tale of raw, brute force. At 385 members, Duncanville was by far the largest band at state; only two others, including Coppell High School, passed 300. Duncanville also has a tradition of success matched by few.

It has been a finals regular since the state competition began in 1979, including state titles in 1986 and 1990 and third- and second-place finishes in the last two contests.

When the band and Duncanville’s drill team and flag corps unfolded on the stadium field, their members spanned from one 10-yard line to the other. A few moments into the first piece, “Fourth of July” by Morton Gould, the band’s horns let out a great bellowing roar, as if to announce Duncanville’s arrival.

The exacting performance is the result of years of drilling and practice under the intense leadership of Dr. Tom Shine, Duncanville band director for two decades.

“He keeps them so disciplined that they don’t want to let him down and give a bad performance,” said Louise Pegues, mother of Duncanville flutist Kristle. “The program speaks for itself.”

Kristle has landed a band scholarship to the University of Oklahoma, which Ms. Pegues attributes to the renowned strength of the Duncanville program.

“These kids have worked for hours and hours, every week,” Dr. Shine said after his band’s performance. “I think people are surprised that we play as well together, technically, as we do.”