The Hoover Tornado Marching Band recently secured its first California State Band Championship trophy in what is considered among its greatest achievements in recent years.
The victory is significant for the band because when director Martin Rhees took the helm in 2009, the group was hardly poised to succeed.
“We were the smallest band in the smallest division and we placed last in every category,” Rhees said.
The students’ uniforms were worn out and their instruments, about a decade old by the time Rhees took over, had never had cases to protect them.
Then in 2013, the Hoover High band received a donation of new instruments by Johnny Harrison, a former Glendale resident and general manager of Lexus of Glendale who now resides in Texas.
The drums were stained purple to match Hoover’s school colors, and students also received new uniforms and cases for their instruments on bumpy bus rides to football games.
Rhees said Harrison’s commitment to the program is still the greatest thing to have happened to the band, even considering the Nov. 21 state championship win.
“If it weren’t for Johnny Harrison, we would not be talking about this,” Rhees said.
The Hoover band, made up of about 70 students, is not as large in number as many other schools, which give those schools an advantage, Rhees said. However, he added that Hoover students are dedicated.
Each year, before the school year begins, the band spends nearly 150 hours practicing in rehearsals, where Rhees tells students that the most important aspect of their attendance at Hoover is their academics. If students don’t make passing grades, they can’t play in the band.
“That’s the absolute day-one speech,” Rhees said.
So far this year, the band has been competing with fewer than the 73 students who initially signed up because a handful have not earned passing grades.
“Our advantage at Hoover is that we work really hard. They take hard criticism,” he said of the students. “And they’re not deterred by that.”
On the morning of each competition, Rhees leads the band on a “Tornado Walk,” where they meander through the Hoover campus, and Rhees reminds them that the school was built for their benefit and that its educators are devoted to the students’ success in one of the best communities and nations on Earth.
“I try to put it into perspective for them. Before we even get on the bus, we’re among the luckiest people on Earth — that our biggest concern is a marching band contest,” Rhees said.
When band members competed for the championship spot in their division, they scored 92.65 points.
They impressed seven judges in several musical and visual categories, giving them the edge against seven other high schools, including the second- and third-highest scoring bands of Capistrano Valley and Lakeside high schools, which won 89 and 83 points, respectively.
After the students won the championship title, Rhees gave a speech inspired by the one that Texas Longhorns coach Mack Brown gave his team after they defeated USC in the 2006 Rose Bowl game.
Rhees heard the speech air on the radio recently in which Brown tells the team that they are loved, and that he wishes that the victory won’t be the greatest thing to happen to them.
Rhees gave his band students the same speech, but switched some words to tailor it to the teens’ experience.
“If you got enough about you to win a state championship, you got enough about you to be a great citizen, a great role model, a great parent and a great leader in your family,” Rhees said. “And you certainly have what it takes to do well in the classroom and get your education. And that’s what we’re looking for when you get out of here. That’s all we want.”
The words nearly made 14-year old Hoover High freshman, Alex Ionescu, tear up.
The clarinet player had his eyes set on playing for the Hoover High Marching Band since he was a student at Toll Middle School, where he attended the sixth, seventh and eighth grades.
When he participated in his first band camp this past summer, he was surprised by what was expected of the band.
“It was a lot of work that I didn’t expect there to be, but really fun,” he said.
From the first day of camp this season, to winning the state championship, Alex said it only made the band even closer.
“The sense of family grew,” Alex said. “We were a group of people that got together and did something really amazing.”
Kelly Corrigan, firstname.lastname@example.org