March­ing Bears headed for na­tion­als

The Norwalk Hour - - FRONT PAGE - By Justin Papp

NORWALK — His first time walk­ing onto the field at MetLife Sta­dium in East Rutherford, N.J., the home of both the New York Gi­ants and Jets, Anthony Alat­sas was shak­ing, from the cold and from nerves.

“The first time you see the lights, you think you’ve gone com­pletely blind,” Alat­sas, a stu­dent at Norwalk High School. “Your eyes have about 30 sec­onds to read­just be­fore you set up ev­ery­thing.”

That was sev­eral years ago, when Alat­sas, a bari­tone horn player, was an un­der­class­man in Norwalk High’s award-win­ning band. Now a 17-year-old se­nior, Alat­sas will be looked to for his vet­eran lead­er­ship as the March­ing Bears pre­pare to take the field again to com­pete for their third U.S. Bands Open Class Na­tional Cham­pi­onships in the past decade.

“You feel a lot smaller than you ac­tu­ally are, so ev­ery­thing you do has to be a lit­tle bit more, just to com­pen­sate for the size of the sta­dium,” Alat­sas said.

The Bears are near­ing the end of an­other suc­cess­ful sea­son, in­clud­ing state and re­gional ti­tles in re­cent weeks. But the band’s vic­to­ries were hard-won.

“The first cou­ple shows, we didn’t even win. It’s a work in progress through­out the whole sea­son,” Chris Rivera, band di­rec­tor at Norwalk High, said.

Be­gin­ning in Au­gust and over the course of eight com­pe­ti­tions this sea­son, the roughly 180-piece band worked to hone their nine­minute per­for­mance and de­velop into a ti­tle con­tender.

“We add more vis­ual ef­fects, we add dif­fer­ent flags, we add more cos­tumes, we make changes to the mu­sic,” Rivera said. “It’s

ever chang­ing. So if you look at the show to­day ver­sus what it was at our Spirit Night per­for­mance at the end of band camp, it’s to­tally dif­fer­ent.”

All week, the band has been pre­par­ing for the mas­sive com­pe­ti­tion, which be­gins with the first per­for­mance at 9 a.m. and end­ing around mid­night. The March­ing Bears, who are a No. 1 seed in the most com­pet­i­tive group, don’t per­form un­til 11:15 p.m.

They’ll com­pete against eight other high schools, many of which are from the tri-state area, but some of which travel from as far as Vir­ginia.

Ac­cord­ing to Alat­sas and Brian Mal­lozzi, a 17-year-old se­nior who plays tenor sax­o­phone, there are three other teams, in par­tic­u­lar, with whom they’ve squared off in state and re­gional con­tests ear­lier this sea­son. They are Southing­ton, Trum­bull and J.P. Stevens High School out of New Jer­sey.

“That’s a the­o­ret­i­cal top four,” Alat­sas said. “But we still don’t know what could hap­pen to­mor­row.”

Rivera said he’s tried to im­press upon the band the im­por­tance of be­ing con­sis­tent dur­ing the com­pe­ti­tion and not wor­ry­ing about the other bands.

“Your show day is pretty much your quiz grade in class and you have the whole week to pre­pare for it. And what­ever you put down on the field that day, is pretty much what you’re get­ting a the­o­ret­i­cal grade for,” Alat­sas said.

It’s a high pressure sit­u­a­tion on a mas­sive stage for the band, but both At­lat­sas and Mal­lozzi said they’re ready.

“Partly be­cause I’m a se­nior I’m just re­ally ex­cited,” Mal­lozzi said. “If you asked me two years ago, yeah, I’d be ner­vous. But we had a re­ally good sea­son, so I feel like go­ing into to­mor­row it’s just go­ing to be fun.”

The band will set out for New Jer­sey around 6 p.m. Satur­day, hope­fully in time for the stu­dents to get ac­cli­mated to Met Life.

“I like to get the kids into the sta­dium to watch a few bands first, be­cause when you come in through the tun­nel into the ac­tual sta­dium to per­form, it’s kind of a shocker, es­pe­cially for the fresh­man,” Rivera said. “So if we can get them in there to see the lights, see the field, and get used to what it looks like and sounds like, it helps men­tally pre­pare them for when they go in to com­pete.”

Erik Traut­mann / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Fresh­man Kamora Prince prac­tices with the color guard dur­ing the Norwalk High School March­ing Bears Band Camp in Au­gust at An­drews Field in Norwalk.

Erik Traut­mann / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Se­nior D.J. Story prac­tices with the bat­tery dur­ing the Norwalk High School March­ing Bears Band Camp on Aug. 21 at An­drews Field in Norwalk.

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