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The Newtown High School Marching Band & Guard earned the National Championship trophy for its division, for the first time in its history, at the USBands Open Class National Championships at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., on Saturday, November 11.
The Nighthawks Marching Band & Guard were undefeated throughout the season, which culminated at the National Championship.
The Nighthawks’ performance of its show Dystopia, based upon George Orwell’s novel 1984, won them top honors over 15 other Division IV bands, as well as caption awards for Best Overall Effect and Best Percussion. Newtown tied for first place in its overall percussion score with perennial Division V powerhouse Dartmouth High School from Massachusetts.
Over the entire field of 56 participating bands, Newtown received the fourth highest overall score in the competition across every division.
The band’s Nationals’ win resulted in a head-shaving for band director Kurt Eckhardt by drum major Jenna Ehnot, at the Band & Guard’s end of season banquet Monday, November 13, as he made good on a promise made to the Band & Guard earlier in the season.
Mr Eckhardt explained earlier on Monday that he originally made a promise, roughly 15 years ago, that if the band defeated the marching band from Norwalk, he would shave his head. Over the years, the promise was passed by word of mouth to each new band. This year, Mr Eckhardt said, the promise was changed to him shaving his head if the band and guard won Nationals.
Shortly after students accepted the award on Saturday evening, Mr Eckhardt said the students began chanting for his hair to be shaved off.
Back in May, when the idea for this year’s show, Dystopia, first came about, Mr Eckhardt said he was curious to see what direction the show would bring the band. Winning the title of National Champions, though, never occurred to him.
Looking back over the season, Mr Eckhardt said winning at Nationals was made possible by contributions from many people, including NHS staff, students, and community members.
Marching Band & Guard parents in particular supported the band through transporting students and equipment and holding fundraisers. Mr Eckhardt also credited Athletic Director Matt Memoli for making the NHS field available for the band and guard when needed.
Dystopia, Mr Eckhardt said, was an “extremely new” type of show for the high school group. The 93-member Marching Band & Guard was also nearly new this year, with an entirely new percussion lineup, and more than half of the color guard also new.
NHS Marching Band & Guard Visual Caption Head Ricky Grasso said winning at Nationals was “very stressful,” but it was also “incredible.” He said six different states were represented in the national divisions, and all of the top bands were scored within one point of the others the previous weekend during other events. There was a lot of talent in the top groups, he said.
Before the NHS students headed out onto the field at MetLife Stadium, Mr Grasso said he gathered them together, like he did for other shows this year. He never told them to win. Instead he told them that they give his life meaning, and he asked them to dedicate the night’s performance to someone who is special in their lives. There were tears before the students went out to perform.
“They impress me… We didn’t realize just how special this was going to be,” said Mr Grasso, adding that tears were prevalent from both students and parents when the trophy was awarded.
The students in this year’s Marching Band & Guard had talent and passion, Mr Grasso said. Throughout the season, Mr Grasso said he stressed that the students are not just a marching band on a field, but instead he helped share life lessons that can be learned from the experiences.
“It made it really special,” said Mr Grasso, adding that each of the band and guard members have learned to be the best version of themselves.
NHS Band & Guard Parents Corps President Michele Buzzi said that after three children and nine years of being part of the NHS Marching Band & Guard program, it was hard for her to express the emotion she felt watching the group win the national title.
“The countdown of scores from 16 bands to the last two was excruciating, and I’m pretty sure no one could breathe when we were waiting for second place to be called. It was surreal when we knew Newtown had the top score,” said Ms Buzzi. “It has been such an honor to work with all of the talented students, dedicated instructors, and committed parents who all have helped built the program to what it is today.”
While the fall season has come to a close, Mr Grasso said tryouts for the Winter Percussion and Winter Guard programs are coming up in the next couple of weeks, and a holiday fundraiser is being talked about.
NHS Marching Band & Guard parent Benay Yaffe contributed to this article.