Nick faced us. He looked so pale and pasty as he clapped four times and called out, "Band, parade rest!" In my head I thought, and, one as I placed my feet apart and placed my hands holding my baritone in the band rest position. The words the leaders had spoken before we came on the field echoed through my mind. "I will call you to attention," Nick said. "you are not to move. Even if they call your names to ever caption award, you cannot even make a peep. This is extremely important." Or as Eli said, "When we win, we have to be gracious." Of course, this made me laugh, but I couldn't possibly have a sense of humor in a time like this. It was good to know someone else had confidence, at least.
We waited what seemed like a century. I watched the judges in the press box confer with each other over the results of the competition. I felt like I was going to blow chunks, and I think everyone else felt the same. To distract myself, I looked at the people in the stands. A large group of blue-clad Nolan supporters were sitting right in the very middle wearing eye-patches and waving small pirate flags. I felt a surge of gratitude for the undying support of the band parents.
Nick walked up to the table on the track where they had the banner and all the trophies for the caption awards. I eyed the banner admiringly. We all wanted to see it hung in our band hall so badly. We had worked so hard for the past four months and to see that chance slip through our fingers yet again would be too much to bear.
At that moment, Central's Drum Majors and their band marched right next to us. The male Drum Major faced them and called them to a parade rest. He turned to us and gave us a confident little smirk that said, "We're taking that banner again. Your days of winning are over." I felt a bubble of hatred swell inside of me. They thought their band was better, but they were wrong. I held my head higher. I wanted that banner more than ever.
Finally, the man on the mic cleared his throat. "It's time to announce the awards for the TPSMEA 2004 State Marching Competition," The man drawled in his lazy southern accent. "But first we would like to congratulate the bands and the directors for their hard work and dedication all year. No matter who walks away with the trophies, you will all be winners." Yeah, accept for the losers, I thought.
First they announced the class divisions. "St. Joseph Catholic School…class III!" We heard a few dedicated parents clap and cheer. Everyone else in the stands clapped politely. He announced a few other bands, but in my state of nervousness, I couldn't understand. Then he got to the bigger bands. "Dallas Bishop Lynch Catholic School…class I!" Not surprising, I thought. When the cheers and the applause died down, the announcer continued. "Fort Worth Nolan Catholic High School…class I!" Duh! We were supposed to get class I. There had never been a year when we didn't get class I. As soon as the announcer said the word "Nolan", the band parents jumped up and started clapping and cheering. Some of the crazier parents pulled out their kazoos and started playing the fight song. The announcer continued. "San Antonio Central Catholic School…class I!" We heard cheers and claps, which increased my determination.
After a short pause, the announcer continued. "And now for the caption awards." I felt my heart pace quicken. "Best Drum Major…Dallas Bishop Lynch!" Their Drum Major walked up to the table with a huge grin on his face. He yelled something I couldn't understand, but the band next to us started cheering. Tuh, I thought haughtily. How unprofessional. But my heart started beating faster. They had already one caption award and there were only five.
After the cheers had died down, the announcing continued. "Best Color Guard…Fort Worth Nolan!" That was good, but we had gotten Best Color Guard last year, and that was the only caption award we won. Doubts started going through my mind, that it was going to be like last year and Central would walk away with all the glory. Nick took the trophy, placed it at his feet, faced us and yelled, "Ready!" I dropped my hands to my side, tense and apprehensive. "Band!" He yelled. We got into position. "Band ten-hut!" I heard a low, rumbling, "hut!" echo through the stadium as it escaped our mouths. The band parents started cheering again.
The announcer went on. "Best Percussion Line…Fort Worth Nolan!" My heart leapt with the band parents. Again, Nick took the trophy and placed it next to his feet. He faced us and called us to attention with more intensity than before.
"Best Wind Line…Fort Worth Nolan!" I went numb. I heard Eli whisper softly behind me, "Yes! That's it, we've won!" It thought about it. Since there were only five caption awards, a band would only have to win three to take the title. Nick turned to us for the third time and called us to attention again. This time, I couldn't help it; I smiled.
But there was still one more caption to announce. "Most Outstanding Marching…Fort Worth Nolan!" Yes! I thought as Nick called us to attention. We've done it! But it wasn't over yet.
"Now for the placement titles. In third place, Dallas Bishop Lynch!" Their drum major yelled the same thing that he had before and they started cheering again. After the applause died down, the announcer began again. "In second place, San Antonio Central!" Behind me, I heard Eli whisper, "In your face! Second place is all you're good for and all you're ever gonna get!" Their drum majors faced them and called, "Band salute!" Each band member placed their right, gloved hands to their brows and, after a few seconds, placed it back into the band rest position.
After their fans and supporters stopped cheering, the announcer called out what we already knew. "And in first place, Fort Worth Nolan!" The parents went insane. I felt like I was going to cry with tears of happiness. I looked at the four beautiful trophies laying at Nick's feet. "READY!" He yelled. "BAND!" We popped to position. "BAND TEN-HUT!" As he yelled, I heard his voice crack. "HUT!" It was the loudest hut that we had ever produced as it boomed through the stadium. One of the judges handed Mr. Standridge the beautiful banner that we longed to touch. With a huge smile on his face, he spread it out and stood in front of us so we could see.
"We'd liked to thank all those who have participated in the TPSMEA 2004 State Marching Competition. Good night and have a safe ride home," The announcer concluded. As Mr. Standridge gathered up the trophies and the banner, Nick called two right turns. We turned and he led us off the field and out of the stadium. We marched behind him, his faithful followers. He led us to where our charter buses were waiting. "Band, halt." Nick called out. "One, two." We answered back as we stopped. He turned around. I saw the look on his face, like he was trying his hardest to restrain a huge grin from breaking out all over his face.
"READY!" He called again. We waited tensely. "BAND!" We popped into position. "BAND TEN-HUT!" He screamed.
"HUT!" We answered.
"HOW ARE YOUR HEELS?" He roared.
"TOGETHER!" We screamed.
"I SAID HOW ARE YOUR EYE?"
He paused for a few moments. Then, "WHO'S GOT THE BEST BAND ANYWHERE?"
"NOLAN CATHOLIC HIGH SCHOO-OOL!"
After practice everyday, we repeated this chant. And after this chant, we would yell, "Whoo!" But this time we yelled and it didn't stop. We continued to scream and scream and scream. We all jumped up and down and raised out instruments in triumph. I swear, people ten blocks away could have heard us. I heard screams of "WE WON STATE! WE WON STATE!" and "WE DID IT! WE DID IT!" All that hard work for four months had finally paid off. All the emotional breakdowns, all the hours of marching in the hot, Texas sun, all the push-ups, all the laps, all the arm circles, and all the hours of pain and endurance finally paid off. Last year had left such a bitter taste in our mouths, and a disparaging feeling of incompetence sat in our stomachs, pushing us, driving us everyday to take the intensity one notch higher. Now we had done it.
I look back at it now, remembering fondly that night I won my first state championship. Sometimes I think it's a dream, it seemed so surreal. But then I remembered the huge group hug and think, no, it was real. It was very real.
And I thank God everyday that it was.
A/N- Sorry if I offended anyone else in Central or Bishop Lynch who read this. It's just that...come on, everyone needs a chance to gloat once in a while.