This week is spring break for Pasco County schools, meaning thousands of students are enjoying some well-deserved time off and maybe even a little time at the beach.
But that’s not so for members of the Sunlake High School Soaring Sound. These band students have spent hours on end in the school’s gymnasium, where there is no air-conditioning when school’s not in session, getting ready to represent Sunlake on the state and national level … once again.
Sunlake’s marching band was a finalist in Class 2A competition last fall — one of the only Pasco schools even competing — and now its color guard is getting ready for a trip to the University of Central Florida near Orlando this weekend to compete at the Southeastern Color Guard Championship. And percussion members have a competition of their own coming up in the next week or so in Daytona Beach.
The Soaring Sound members are first to credit the efforts of director Tonya O’Malley, who’s now in her fifth year at Sunlake. But it’s O’Malley who quickly turns and credits her players.
“It all comes down to our student leaders. This is what has made our program thrive,” O’Malley said. “We have one or two kids in every single section of the band that demands excellence in that section. I can teach them, but it’s these leaders who make sure everyone in their section are there, and all prepared.”
Leaders earn their positions every year, including drum majors like Nonna Stutzman, who started in the band as a flute player, but was approached by O’Malley last year to serve as one of two field leaders for the band. Even as her junior year is drawing to a close, Stutzman already is working hard to earn the privilege of continuing as drum major next year.
“You have to try harder than you did last year,” Stutzman said, adding that her level of involvement has prompted her to think quite seriously about a future in music. “Marching band honestly has made up my whole high school experience. I played the flute for so long, maybe I can even teach it.”
Troy Moeller is one of the younger leaders, a sophomore who serves as the brass captain. During marching season, he plays a euphonium — one step down from a tuba — and right now is part of the percussion group preparing to head to Daytona.
Moeller, however, has other talents as well, including the cello. And he dabbles a bit on saxophone as well.
Moeller doesn’t like to talk about all of that much, but that hasn’t stopped O’Malley from singing his praises.
“The biggest selling point for me on Troy is that he was an amazing player, even as a freshman,” O’Malley said. “I sent out emails to all his teachers looking for some feedback, and what I got was that Troy is an exceptional student who is well beyond his years. The way he behaves in class is impeccable.
“It’s all those types of things I expect of the kids in leadership. They need to be well-rounded individuals, and represent the band well in the community and in the school.”
O’Malley starts the recruiting process early for Soaring Sound, working closely with younger students at Rushe Middle School, and preparing them for the transition.
“All of this can be somewhat intimidating for eighth-grade kids,” O’Malley said. “Our members go frequently and talk to the kids there, and make sure they are comfortable. They let them know the high school band is not big and scary, and they can fit right in.”
Soaring Sound has just under 75 members right now, but the latest success of the band could cause that number to swell. In fact, O’Malley has a list of 60 Rushe students interested in taking part in Soaring Sound next year.
“They’re looking to find their place,” she said.
When those new freshmen arrive, they’ll find a band ready to help them do just that, thanks to people like color guard captain Sara Pickernell.
Pickernell is graduating in May, but she hopes leaving her mark will help encourage others to be strong leaders in Soaring Sound as well.
“My leadership experience is way more off the field than on the field,” Pickernell said. “If the kids are having a hard time, like their boyfriend just broke up with them or they are having trouble in class, I pull them aside and see what I can do to help.”
Published March 19, 2014