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San Antonio or bust: How area high school bands earned a trip to state

They’ve been working for months, sometimes from before dawn to after dinner, and now members of the Castleberry High School band plan to use music to carry the audience away from San Antonio’s Alamodome to an adventure under the sea when they compete for the UIL Class 4A state marching band title Monday.

Castleberry is one of several high schools from classes 4A and 6A competing in this year’s state contests, which start Monday and stretch over three days. Argyle, Kennedale and Springtown are also competing in Class 4A.

In Class 6A, Keller and Hurst L.D. Bell are among the 40 bands in the field. Others include Lewisville Hebron, Flower Mound Marcus, Duncanville, Coppell, Flower Mound High and Plano East.

Leading up to the competition, the Castleberry Lions began practicing in the dark of 7 a.m. As they worked on their program, “Majestic Tide,” they welcomed the morning sun.

“It feels amazing,” said Rito Valdez, 17, a senior and the head drum major. He said the 152 members of the band are eager to compete at the state level.

The Kennedale High School Wildcat Band, meanwhile, which placed fifth overall at state in 2014, heads to San Antonio with a piece called, “Duality.”

“The kids know they are competing against some of the best bands in the state — and possibly the nation,” said Erol Oaktay, Kennedale director of bands.

Class 4A bands start with a preliminary round at 8:30 a.m. Monday. A state champion will be named after a finals round in the evening. Class 6A bands will perform a preliminary round Tuesday, with finals held Wednesday morning and the winners announced starting at 12:30 p.m.

Getting to state

For many of the bands heading to San Antonio, competing at the state level is nothing new. But some, like Keller — which has advanced to state seven time — are still seeking that elusive title.

The Indians are performing a piece called, “Ascend,” that includes music from the movies The Walk and Signs, a concert piece and original work.

“They are pretty motivated and pumped up just with the opportunity,” Keller band director Mark McGahey said of his students.

L.D. Bell’s Blue Raider Band has qualified for the state contest six times since it won the state title in 2000. This year, the 276-member band performs a number called, “Beyond the Veil,” said band director Van Mathews.

While Bell has a tradition of competing at state, drum major Cameron Kostopoulos, said this is a first for the current members.

“This is such an incredibly rewarding experience,” said Kostopoulous, 17. “We’ve all been pushing ourselves to the max, both in and out of rehearsal, and now I can’t wait to show what we can do.”

“We’re pushing ourselves even harder to see just how far we can go,” Kostopoulous said. “We rehearse every morning before the sun rises, practice with our friends after school, and then go home and watch the day’s performance as the sun sets. It’s relentless, but it’s the pain of discipline now or the pain of regret later.”

The 122-member Argyle High School band won the Class 4A title in 2014 and has held a state title for the past eight years. This year the Eagles are performing, “iGeneration,” which touches on how technology is part of everyday life now and where it may be headed.​

“The students are a bit anxious and are working hard to continue to perfect their performance,” said Kathy Johnson, director of bands for Argyle. “They are very well aware that there is a target on their backs and in order to keep the title they must go far above and beyond and continue to blaze the trail in this activity.​”

‘Performance of a lifetime’

The road to San Antonio has been an adrenaline-filled, emotional journey for the Castleberry Lions.

“Two years ago, we were really close, but we didn’t make it,” Valdez, the head drum major, said.

Stephanie Ballero, Castleberry director of bands, said this is her first state contest. Neither she nor the band have had time to get nervous since they found out they made state, she said.

The band gave “the performance of a lifetime,” just to make the cut to go to state, Ballero said. Their show has three movements: “Under the Sea,” “Salinity” and “Vortex.”

At the area marching contest, Ballero was with band directors in a hallway filled with “awkward tension” when she found out the Lions were headed to San Antonio.

“I ran up the stairs and I was looking for my kids,” Ballero said. She found her students cheering. “It was all hugs after that. Just cheering and hugs.”

The Lions have been practicing together Monday through Friday since Aug. 1.

“We are hoping to make the top 10 so we can come back and perform in the finals,” Ballero said.

The UIL rotates which classifications compete for the state marching title every other year, so this is a chance that Castleberry won’t have again until at least 2018.

Valdez said he has imagined what it would be like to conduct his band at the pressure-packed Alamodome. He hopes their hard work and practice pay off.

“We finally have the opportunity,” he said.

Diane A. Smith: 817-390-7675, @dianeasmith1

For more information, or to find the results: www.uiltexas.org/music/marching-band/state.

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