SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ - The South Plainfield High School Marching Band took first place in the Tournament of Bands 2017 Region 10 Championship Competition on October 22nd at West Essex High School in North Caldwell, NJ. In addition to winning the competition with a high score of 90.575 and earning the title of New York Metropolitan Regional Champions, the Marching Band took home trophies for Best Visual and Best Music.
“They did an amazing job,” said Band Director William Haughwout. “They felt good coming off of the field and that’s what matters. I think the combination of the right kind of nerves and the right amount of excitement resulted in an incredible performance.”
“This is the first time this has happened in all four years that I have been here,” said Co-Drum Major Ryan Berardi. “I’m so happy! We all worked really hard and it turned out in our favor big time.”
Not only did South Plainfield Marching Band win the Tournament of Bands Region 10 Championship Competition, but their score of 90.575 placed them at number three out of thirty-four marching bands entering from nine states in the Tournament of Bands (TOB) Category 2-A overall competition. This is the first year that South Plainfield has competed in Tournament of Bands, a nonprofit educational organization that provides competitive arenas for hundreds of marching bands from September through November each year.
“This last competition was unreal for me,” said Tracy Sesta, Band Parent of Senior twins. “The season went so fast. I was so happy that the seniors and our Marching Band ended the season with the biggest win and highest score of all season.”
The members of the South Plainfield Marching Band were already on the practice field as the sun rose over Spring Lake Park in the wee hours of the morning on October 22nd. Their dew soaked feet repeated the motions of the performance they had practiced and performed since mid-August. It all came down to this day, the long awaited final competition of the Tournament of Bands Region 10 Championships.
“These kids are here literally all day from the moment they walk into school to practice right after school, to the football games, to the three hour long practices on weekends,” said Band Parent Kelly Bosse. “It is something that’s very demanding on the kids, on their bodies, and to keep their school work up. My daughter is on the Color Guard and suffered a concussion earlier in the season when a flag fell on her head. It comes with the risk and she says to me all of the time, she would do it again. She loves Marching Band. She loves Color Guard.”
“I just can’t help but to stress the teamwork and dedication that they all put into each practice, performance and in trying to help each other to be the best they can,” said Band Parent Gina McConville. “Hard work really pays off and I’m so proud of them all.”
“After hours and days, weeks and months, the Show becomes alive and evolves,” said Band Parent and Pit Crew Volunteer Keith Slicner. “There’s nothing to it, once you know the trick, but practice and hard work, over and over and over. And when they're done with that, they do it again, and again, and again. That's where that magic lives.”
Parent volunteers comprise the Pit Crew, who also arrived early on the morning of the October 22nd competition to meticulously pack the Marching Band trailer with instruments, equipment, platforms, tables, chimes, bass drums, the Marching Band golf cart and all of the miscellaneous essentials that make the performance complete. Other groups of band parents congregated inside the band room to organize uniforms, food, flags, medical kits and everything else that needs to come with the students for a long day of competition. Preparation is crucial, according to these band parents.
After three hours on the practice field, the Marching Band took a break to devour the huge spread of breakfast foods provided by the Band Parent “Meals on Wheels” team, who organize the preparation and donation of foods to give the teenagers a substantial meal to last them the day.
“What the casual observer of the show also doesn’t see is the hidden helpers who march the invisible dots,” added Slicner. “The Hidden Helpers are normal, everyday people with a vested interest in making The Show come alive. Heavy and fragile things need to be moved, near and far. Things break and need to be fixed. The Students need to eat. Uniforms and costumes need to be clean. Funds need to be raised. Countless little things need to be done and The Hidden Helpers don't ask questions, they simply do what is required of them. In that display of selfless endeavor, there the magic lives.”
Soon it was time to board the buses. The band room came alive with the flutter of activity as uniforms were adjusted, hat boxes were distributed, and instruments were packed. There was a buzz of nervous excitement that vibrated through the air as the students took their seats and the engines of three South Plainfield Board of Education buses roared in unison, rolling out of the parking lot.
“The students were very excited,” said Assistant Band Director Sean Ferguson commenting on the emotions of the students as they were driven to their final performance of the competition season. “They were super pumped to start performing. I was excited. We were all anxious and just wanted to get off the bus and get ready to do this.”
By performance time, the nerves had calmed and the Marching Band was ready. As the familiar tap of the drums sounded, the band took their places on the football field before judges and packed stands of onlookers to perform their show, “Angels and Demons,” for the last time in competition.
“Drum majors, is your band ready?” The voice of the announcer echoed over the loud speaker. In response, Co-Drum Majors Ryan Berardi and Brian Sesta saluted and marched to the platform that stood on the sidelines before the football field. Lifting their batons, they signaled the performance to begin. With that, the long hours of practice, injuries, soreness and anxiety, were a thing of the past and the South Plainfield Marching Band performed like they have never performed before, according to band parents who have watched the band from the start of the season.
“I knew it was my kids’ last competition and thought I would have to fight back a little tear,” said Tracy Sesta. “I was so proud of them and sad they were ending something that brought them so much pride and fun during their high school career. Anyway, seeing the joy and excitement from everyone left no room for tears.”
The crowd applauded wildly as the Marching Band shifted formations while playing their instruments with seemingly flawless precision and covering the length of the football field and back. The Color Guard unfolded their golden angel wings, twirled huge decorative flags, and tossed gun props high into the air. As the performance came to a close, Senior Kyle Kelly lifted his trumpet to end the performance with a climactic close.
“To hit the last note, it feels as if time just stops,” said Kyle Kelly reflecting on the finale of the show. “And for those few moments, everything in the world is just right.”
And all was right with the world for South Plainfield as hours later, after all of the entries for Marching Band in Region 10 in the West Essex Competition had performed, Co-Drum Majors Ryan Berardi and Brian Sesta along with Color Guard Captains Jennifer Christilles and Lindsay Benko, and Senior students of the Marching Band who joined them for moral support, waited on the field for the awards and trophies to be distributed in the closing ceremony.
Beginning with Sixth place in Category 2-A, each band was announced until they were down to two, and South Plainfield had not yet heard their name bellowed over the loud speaker.
“The moment I knew we won championships was intense,” said Co-Drum Major Brian Sesta. “We heard them announce the second place and best percussion awards and all of our heartbeats paused. It was terrifying. But then we heard another school’s name. It was one of the greatest feelings. I saw it in the faces of every senior standing beside me. It was the look that we have finally made it. Four seasons of dedication and determination have paid off. We had finally succeeded in becoming champions.”
The crowd was quiet as all awaited the First Place Marching Band to be officially announced.
“First place, with a score 90.575 and receiving the awards for Best Visual and Best Music goes to,” the announcer paused and with loud enthusiasm revealed the name of the winning school. “South Plainfield High School!”
“When I heard the Second Place winner was best percussion, I thought that was us because we usually win for that, but it wasn’t!” said Freshman Caitlin McConville. “When they announced S.P. for first place I was like “YESSSS”! I really found a family in Marching Band!”
“It’s a really great way for us to end the year,” added Co-Drum Major Berardi. “Us seniors, we’re on our third band director in four years, and so the third one was our savior. We’re a lot harder working and a lot more focused. When they announced second place with best percussion and auxiliary, my heart dropped a little bit and then after I heard it wasn’t us, I was beyond happy, I was almost about to scream. We have to stay straight faced.”
“It’s just a great way to go out for the seniors and it’s great for the freshman that came in.” said Nina Rohrer. “This is great. Just the way every band cheers for each other. They respect each other.”
“I’ve been waiting four years for this. It’s very exciting,” said Senior Isabella Ardito. “I’m extremely happy.”
“This was our first championship since I can remember,” said Band Parent and Volunteer Drumline Instructor Scott Carey. “We heard cheers, saw tears and spent a long time enjoying it. It was kind of funny. All the other bands (even other chapter winners) had left the stadium. S.P. was the only one left, still hugging, taking pictures and exchanging high-fives.”
On the way home, as the buses entered South Plainfield, they were greeted by the flashing lights of the South Plainfield Police Department. Chief James Parker arranged for a police escort through town and Officer Mike Alvarez played the Marching Band’s Performance music through the speaker of his police car as he led the victors to the high school, where they were met by family, friends and supporters honking horns and welcoming the champions back from an amazing adventure.
“The kids really enjoyed their homecoming reception when they crossed the border into S.P.,” said Carey. “The South Plainfield Police Department provided an escort and the kids were greeted by cheering parents, car horns and flashing headlights when they returned to South Plainfield High School.”
“Seeing all of the hard work that the kids, parents, Pit Crew, the Meals on Wheels moms, and the Friday staff, just seeing everyone pull together for the kids and to see such a big win like this is just, I cannot even put it into words,” added Bosse. “I’m just so excited for all of the kids, I really am. It’s just awesome. It’s gonna make me cry. It’s happy tears though.”
“Like all of the parent volunteers, it just felt great to be a part of it,” added Carey. “The kids will never forget this and I'm thrilled that we could help get to this point. The kids deserved it. I couldn't have been happier for them and the entire band. I include all the parent helpers and boosters. They worked hard - not just this year, but for many years.”
“This is a very exciting time for them and I’m truly personally overwhelmed with the Championship win, but it’s well deserved,” added McConville. “They showed incredible teamwork and together look what they accomplished. I’m sure it was difficult at times but this is a team like no other. The kids dedication to perfecting their performance and helping other band members is truly amazing! I have the goosies! My goosies may never go away!”
“I think they did phenomenal,” concluded Ferguson. “I think they did an awesome job and I’m very proud of them. They deserve it all, so I’m very proud.”
The South Plainfield Marching Band will have their final football game performance at the annual Thanksgiving Day Football game, where rivals North Plainfield and South Plainfield will play at 10:30am at North Plainfield High School located at 34 Wilson Ave, North Plainfield, NJ 07060. The Marching Band will perform as the pre-game show starting at 10:15am.