At the command of the drum major's whistle, the bowed heads of Spring Valley's Mount Miguel High School marching units snapped up, and hand-held fans flew open to spell the school's mascot name-- Matadors.
Then, to the strains of "British Eighth," the baton-twirling soloist, the mascots with matador capes, the flag corps and band members clad in black and red marched Saturday past the 12 judges, hoping to retain the band sweepstakes award won last year at the annual California Band Review in Santa Ana.
One by one, bands and marching units from 17 state high schools filed by the reviewing stand at the 19th annual competition sponsored by the Santa Ana Winds Youth Band. In addition to the marching contest held around the Civic Center, a separate field show of halftime performances featured 10 of the 17 competitors.
The field show sweepstakes trophy went to Foothill High of Santa Ana, the only Orange County school to win a top award.
Crooked lines, sour notes and dropped batons were taboo in the first stage of judging for each of the units, such as percussion squads, I.D. units (marchers with signs spelling out the schools' names), rifle teams, drill teams, twirlers and drum majors.
Each unit offered sharp salutes as it passed the reviewing stand. The Los Banos I.D. unit danced as it performed a routine with letters spelling the school name.
Members of the Montebello drill team performed shoulder-high kicks as they marched down the street. Montebello went on to win the drill team sweepstakes award; the school's entire marching ensemble captured the directors' award for overall showmanship.
"It's better, it's a lot better," Mount Miguel junior cymbalist Jennifer Horn said after the first round of judging, comparing this year's performance to last year's.
But Mount Miguel would not keep the championship trophy, which was awarded this year to Riverside's Rubidoux High. The latter's precision and performance of "March of the Mitten Men" was solid enough to win the top rating.
Then the military marches gave way to showmanship on the field, where some schools abandoned traditional school colors to add pizazz. The Claremont High dance team, for example, changed from their gray-maroon-and-white marching uniforms to white-and-turquoise costumes for the field show based on the musical, "Starlight Express."
Claremont band director Gary Iida and drill team director Michele Allen said the contest helps them learn the latest trends in halftime shows, including the increased use of stationary backdrops, colored flags and costumes.
"That's real exciting, but of course it puts a lot of pressure on groups to start raising more money to try to keep up with the Joneses, so to speak," Allen said.