"We graduated 17 seniors from last year's band and we had only eight seniors for this year," Spinosa said. "Plus, two of our trumpet players moved over the summer. We had 19 new band members, brand new to the program. I thought it was going to be a rebuilding year."
When a football or basketball coach mentions the words "rebuilding year," it usually means one thing - unsuccessful. In sports, "rebuilding year" is a nicer way of saying "We're going to be lousy." In the world of marching bands, it means that the prospects for having another sensational band season at Weehawken were highly unlikely, putting it mildly.
"I think we all started off with low expectations," said senior Francis Petrie, who plays the tenor saxophone. "We were coming off a successful year, and I think everyone couldn't have thought we could do it again."
"We lost a lot of people and had a lot of new people," said fellow senior Graciette Hache, who used to play the clarinet, but moved up to become a drum major this season. "I think everyone doubted that we could be as successful as we were last year."
So when the students participated in band camp - yes, just like the movie "American Pie," although with different results - they all had no idea what the future held. Neither did Spinosa.
"We worked on the music and the flag twirling three nights a week in August in Arricale Field," Spinosa said. "The neighbors must have loved it."
Sure thing. Imagine hearing blaring horns and banging drums as the sun set on your summer afternoon in your backyard. Just a lovely way to end a long, hot August day. Bang, clash, boom, toot.
But after a few practices, Spinosa started to get some positive feedback from the neighbors who live near the practice field.
"One night, as we were walking back to the high school, one of the neighbors said, 'Hey, you guys are getting better. You're actually sounding pretty good,' " Spinosa said. "That was a pretty neat thing and a sign of encouragement."
After surviving camp - thank God, it wasn't anything like the "American Pie" version and remained inside the confines of Weehawken High School - the Weehawken marching band trudged off to their first competition to perform their 10-minute production of "007, Bond, James Bond," featuring songs from Bond movies like "Goldfinger," "Live and Let Die" and of course, the famous James Bond theme, as well as a percussion piece from "Mission Impossible."
Competition The band's first competition was at Hasbrouck Heights High School on Oct. 1 and they won, scoring 71.45 out of 100 from the judges.
"It was very inspiring to us," Spinosa said. "We usually start off slow. We were shocked when we won." "The seniors all got together and said that we had to step it up," Petrie said. "Everything came together. We did much better than anyone could have expected."
The next weekend, the band went to Pequannock High School, performed in a driving rainstorm, and unfortunately lost.
But a few weeks later, they went to the prestigious Bloomfield High School Invitational Band Competition, where they won among schools their own Group I size, taking first place in marching, percussion and color guard.
"We just had a perfect show that day," Spinosa said. "Everything just clicked. It got us ready to go to Giants Stadium."
The competition at Giants Stadium is the United States Scholastic Band Association's All-States competition, where schools from all over the Northeast come and compete against schools of equal enrollment and band size. In recent years, there were some obstacles that prevented the Weehawken band from competing at Giants Stadium. One year, the entire competition was postponed due to rain. Another, the sod at Giants Stadium was not able to withstand the band competitions and the football games being played there. Of course, the NFL games won out.
So there had been some disappointments in the past at the Meadowlands.
Not this time.
"It's really a great time for the kids," Spinosa said. "It's so close to home, yet it's the grandest stage in the area. The competition started at 12 noon and went straight through until midnight, with a band performing every 15 minutes. I just told the kids not to look up or out as they marched out of the same tunnel that the Giants and Jets march out of on Sundays. I know that they were awestruck by it, because it is such a thrill, but they performed so well."
The competition Weehawken competed against 13 other bands of similar Group I size, schools like Middletown North, Glen Ridge, Haddon Heights and Lakewood of New Jersey, Deer Park (N.Y.), Louis Dieruff (Pa.) and the eventual champion, Fluvana County of Virginia.
Weehawken scored its best USBBA score of the season, gaining an 84.45 from the judges. The percussion and color guards received special honors and the band finished among the top 11 overall in all groups.
"I really feel proud for the seniors," Spinosa said. "They knew it was going to be a tough year, but they stuck with it and carried the younger ones through. That's what made the season worthwhile. The younger kids stepped it up and made a steady rise. We got a lot further this year than anyone thought we would."
Spinosa gave special credit to new color guard coordinator Michele Giorgio, who joined the staff this year. "The color guard did some nice things and I know Michele worked hard with them," Spinosa said.
The band members felt proud of their accomplishments.
"We just progressed each week," Petrie said. "And we ended with the best year ever. It was good to go out on a high note. I do feel like I taught some of the younger kids something. We set a pretty high precedent for the others to follow."
"The younger kids stepped up more than the seniors did," Hache said. "We have so many talented freshmen. I knew we weren't this good when we were freshmen. It's the best feeling in the world to know that we did as well as we did. We made it through the tough times and everyone did just an amazing job."
The band will get one last chance to perform their tribute to James Bond Wednesday night at halftime of the Weehawken-Secaucus football game.