The Doherty High School Marching Spartans: An Unbreakable Bond
Ah, Homecoming. Bonfires, cooler weather, football, school spirit, and nostalgia. What a wonderful time of year. Not everyone had a good experience in high school, but I did. Thirty years ago, I got to perform with the marching band in the halftime show for every football game, and those years in the band were some of the most fulfilling of my life. At age 16, I felt immense pride as a member of the Doherty High School Marching Spartans because we were good. Really good. “We spent hours perfecting little moves, making sure everyone did it the same way,” said our director, Dick Kusk. “That’s the difference between somebody that’s good and somebody that’s great.” We upset three-time winners Thornton High School for the 1983 State Championship, making our band the first of any club or sport to take State in Doherty’s history. After making former Superintendent Tom Doherty (for whom our school was named) the president of our fundraising campaign, we set our sights on the Nationals Marching Band Championship in Whitewater, Wisconsin. In a competition of over 3o bands, the top ten of whom had been locked in for years, we placed fifth. No one outside Colorado had ever heard of us, so we felt like National Champs even though we weren’t. Check out our winning show here.
On that Nationals trip, I learned several valuable lessons: Don’t lock your knees when you’re waiting for a parade to start. Don’t set down anything small or valuable when the bus is moving. It is possible to play a trumpet too loudly at lower altitude. Tolerate drummers who practice on the back of your seat; it will earn the drumline second place at Nationals (losing first place by half a point). Learn to take off your bra without removing your shirt. These lessons are mere nostalgia now although the last has been particularly valuable in the years since (especially on laundry day).
I also learned valuable social skills. I had been bullied in middle school, so after my family moved and I started ninth grade, I was quite shy—not a normal personality trait. My bandmates made me feel like I belonged, and as we transitioned to high school together, I felt at ease melting into the crowd and being with my “band buddies.” I didn’t care as much about the music (sorry Mr. Kusk) as I did about the camaraderie of my friends in the band. I think that’s why it was so easy to pick up last weekend where we had left off thirty years ago.
There’s something about riding a bus for two weeks with the same group of people, sleeping in church basements and school gyms, keeping the same exhausting schedule, and wearing the same uniforms that makes an unbreakable bond, one we tested constantly. I remember a social experiment we tried one evening after our arrival in Wisconsin: How many shocked looks could we get from strangers? At a multi-school gathering, a group of about eight of us joined hands and serpentined our way through the crowd, flashing long earrings we had made by connecting bobby pins with colored rubber bands. Even the boys wore them on their left ears—shocking! My confidence was at its highest peak, and I laughed every time someone pointed us out, something that would have mortified my eighth-grade self. I was proud to be associated with this group of crazy kids, and that pride bloomed in me again at this year’s Homecoming as we cheered on the current Marching Spartans.
Class reunions are for those who share the same graduation date, so my class cohorts are the only people I’ve seen at the decade reunions. A few of us had been planning a multi-year Nationals reunion since last January, and when friends from the classes of 1983-86 started to gather at last weekend’s Homecoming festivities, I felt surrounded by those who cared about me in high school, rather than by the same old high school cliques. When we met in the stadium for the first time since that Nationals trip, it was as if no time had passed; we just looked older. Being our own little island of band buddies in a crowd of fans made us all conscious of how close we had become all those years ago. Friends I hadn’t seen in 30 years made their way through the crowd to sit with us, joining the ongoing conversation without missing a beat. “Go! Fight! Go, fight, win!” we sang in the fight song, which we all still have memorized. It felt like the old days; I don’t think many of us watched the game.
Events of Homecoming weekend stretched into the wee hours. None of us wanted to admit that our old bodies couldn’t take the punishment of a late night like they used to. In denial, we lingered as long as we could, relishing this rare opportunity to spend time together and reminisce about our glory days. I wonder: if I had known what a singular time in my life it was, would I have placed more significance on that Nationals trip? The choices I made in high school shaped who I became as an adult: I still play the flute, and I became a teacher. I don’t have too many regrets about how I spent my high school years. They were filled with school spirit, music, and lasting friendships. As I come down from the cloud I floated on all weekend and touch down in my current life, I realize how fortunate I am to have reconnected with friends who share the same sense of internal motivation and pride in our accomplishments. As we used to say, we are “AWESOME!”