By Jake Flaherty
It was a cold, rainy Friday night. Wind was swirling as the Andover High Football team paraded off the field in victory. The local newspaper pulled aside a few players and the head coach. Fans stuck around with their umbrellas and rain coats to cheer on the team that had just put a major stamp on their season.
But one group of people walked off with no praise, with no high fives or cheers. Their heavy instruments soaking wet were stuffed into the back of their trailer and they hurried home with the sense of a job well done.
The Andover High Marching Band, a group made of 45 members, rarely gets acknowledged for it hard work, dedication, and passion for its craft. Much like a star quarterback or his fined tuned offense, countless hours of preparation goes into perfecting their complicated performances. “People don’t understand all the hard work that goes into it,” said Carina Brunelle a senior and leader of the woodwind instruments who has enjoyed her time in the band despite their lack of recognition. “I like it a lot. Just being with people I like and having a fun time is all that really matters.”
That’s a sentiment that is echoed throughout the band members. There is no sense of resentment or anger as a result of being under appreciated. To them, it’s about the love of playing music and being with their friends. As Ben Douglas, a junior and head of percussion instruments points out, it could be worse: “we might not get noticed. But at least we are good. Definitely one of the better bands in the area.”
This was tested on October 7, when the band hosted the Massachusetts Instrumental and Choral Conductor’s Association (MICCA) against five other local towns. The band more than held its own, finishing in one of the top spots. Eric Vastano, the drum major, the senior seen leading the band, loved the fact that they competed in the competition, “It just demonstrated all the work we have put into it,” he said. “For us to have a moment for ourselves was pretty rewarding. We are definitely underfunded but we overcome that.”
Perhaps no one knows more about what they have to overcome than Dean Smith. Smith, just a sophomore, is in charge of the bands dirty work. Besides playing the drums, a focal point in any band, Smith is responsible for making sure all the instruments make it to and from the games. The lack of funding is particularly evident during away games, when their trailer fills up Smith and his dad stack the remaining equipment in their SUV. “The worst is carrying the quad tenor drums or the tuba,” says Smith. “Those are the heaviest.” Sometimes it’s tough to keep lugging all that weight when it’s not noticed. “People come to football games to see the game or to hang with their friends. Not to watch us,” Smith added.
Although the band has never been linked to their success, members of the football team do appreciate all they do. “They work hard and practice just as hard as we do,” said Chris Mara, a starter on the offensive line. “They go to all the games even when it’s bad out.”
Senior captain and three-year starter Mark Zavrl unfortunately sustained a gruesome injury that has kept him off the field for the majority of the year. However, his patrol of the sidelines has given him a perfect view of the band. “No one ever mentions what they bring to this team,” he said. “But they bring energy to the stands. Their songs always get me going when we score a touchdown.”
There isn’t a better example of this energy than when the Warriors took on Tewksbury Memorial High school earlier this season. Andover had been favored heavily against the rival but for whatever reason came out flat. The game was at a deadlock heading into the final minutes of the game. Both sides kept matching each other’s offensive outburst with neither team finding an edge. That boost came on a run by Andover on their own sideline. As the runner was being dragged down by his helmet, the referee made no notion of acknowledgment. Spotting the no call from their section, a member of the band proceeded to scream out, “That’s a facemask!” Upon hearing this, the Tewksbury defender relinquished his grip of the facemask, helped himself up, and pointed up at the band, then continued it with a “Ya, so what? You’re just the band” type of taunt. Members of the band, unwilling to back down, followed up with dismissive gestures of their own. Noticing this scene, the Andover sideline went crazy. The mood swing and the excitement was palpable. A few big plays later, the game was out of reach and the Warriors marched off the field in victory.
Fast forward a few weeks later: that win was one of the tiebreakers which helped Andover seal the deal as MVC champs and gave birth to a seed in the playoffs.
Finally the band got the respect they deserved. All eyes were on them, as they performed in front of the Andover High student body for the schools Thanksgiving pep rally. People weren’t there to watch the football game, or to hang with friends. They were there to listen, to watch the band brilliantly perform the same songs and routines that had been overlooked for so long. As Adam Hornung, a senior at Andover who has been to every football game to watch his friends on the team, points out, “It’s nice to see them get a moment for themselves. I think I’m one of the few fans that actually paid attention to them all year. They are good.”
And how did the band feel about their moment? “We weren’t nervous. Just excited,” said Douglas.