The various social groups who populate North Bergen High School – football players, cheerleaders, band members – don’t hate each other, according to those involved in the band. Actually, the teamwork from all groups at football games creates an atmosphere that makes Bruins Stadium all the more intimidating for opponents.
“There’s really no animosity,” said Brian Bonacci, who runs the band program with Michael Connor, last week. “The cheerleaders actually request songs, and when they do cheers, the band cheers back with them.”
With a new football season underway, the band is practicing almost once a day and preparing for their own types of competitions.
“It’s a good feeling to have someone to turn to when you’re in trouble.” – Emma Recinos
Besides contributing to town parades, festivals, and other events, which included the recent 9/11 memorial, the marching band also competes and performs at every home football game.
With band competitions beginning in the next few weeks, band directors are confident that this year’s group could set the record for years to come.
Hard work pays off
With roughly 70 members, the marching band is made up of students from all four grades of high school. Many of the newbies are surprised by the level of dedication that is required.
“We practice Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays,” said Bonacci.
Students are required to begin practicing in August. Once the school year starts, they rehearse for games and competitions for over 11 hours each week, a workload that does not include private practice time, attending football games, or heading to competitions.
“It’s pretty stressful but it’s worth it,” said Melissa Osario, who just began her senior year. As a drum major, Osario is responsible for conducting the band during performances.
“We’re pushing ourselves more,” said Sherly Gutierrez. As a junior, she expects to become flute section leader by next year.
“With all the work and the effort that we have to put in,” continued Gutierrez, “it gives us more responsibility as individuals.”
Band students said that many football players have told them the fight songs encourage them to play better.
With competitions, the atmosphere is much more stressed. According to Bonacci, there can be as many as 30 schools in each competition.
“We travel to Pennsylvania and other states and compete against like-sized bands,” said Bonacci.
“We’re in a new circuit [this year],” said Emma Recinos, a senior flute player and section leader. “We’ll get to see different schools, different places.”
She added, “Right before you step on the field you get that adrenaline rush. You’re nervous, you’re excited, and it’s a lot of fun.”
A place of refuge
Students said the band helps them escape the pressures of school and work.
“The first couple of weeks of school are such a drag,” said Osario. “Marching band gets you through it.”
“I actually feel like I belong with the marching band,” said Gutierrez. “It’s like any other family. We argue, we have fun times, bad times, but throughout all of it they’re always here.”
“It’s a good support system,” said Recinos. “If you have problems you have a friend to talk to.”
“We can even speak openly to our band directors,” added Recinos. “It’s a good feeling to have someone to turn to when you’re in trouble.”
Bonacci and Connor have nothing but the highest of expectations for this year’s group.
“It’s probably the best band we’ve had in the time I’ve been here,” said Bonacci, who added that he is in his 12th year as director. “We stand to do very well.”
Bonacci said the school’s all-time point’s record was set in 2005. Points are accumulated through competitions, the first of which will begin in mid-October in Roselle Park.
“Overall we have some really great kids that we’re really happy to work with,” added Bonacci.
“We’ve improved so much over the years,” said Osario, “it makes us so proud.”
After coming up short a few hundredths of a point, the students have put the disappointment behind them and look forward to competing next month.
“We’ve worked hard and we’ve improved,” said Recinos. “It was a little disappointing but it’s also encouraging because we’re getting better.”
According to Bonacci, the North Bergen High School marching band commands a smaller budget than most schools they have to compete with.
“Other schools might have fancier equipment or a bigger staff,” said Bonacci. “The students know that they can stand toe-to-toe with anybody and come out winning.”
Bonacci said that the competitions build confidence.
“That’s a big part of what we encourage,” he said. “We want them to realize their own potential in every aspect, and we use music as a method to that end.”
Stephen LaMarca may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.