By Michelle Ruschman
On January 1st, the Niceville High School Eagle Pride Marching Band kicked off 2024 by performing in the 135th Tournament of Roses Parade, an event that has gained an international audience. How was this achieved? Matthew Tenore, Associate Director of Bands, explains. “We’re blessed with wonderful band students here in Niceville. When we see these kids achieve in the way they have, we want to reward their efforts with some sort of magnanimous trip. Their work ethic is unlike any other band. These kids have never relented in trying to strive for the highest possible level, and it showed by being invited to the Rose Bowl Parade.”
While the 2023/24 band had the privilege of marching for the event, Mr. Tenore wants to acknowledge it was the 2022/23 members who helped them get there. “We had to apply in 2022 to march in the 2024 parade, and we were competing with countless bands from around the world, not just the United States. The band of the 2022/23 school year had a great showing, and it gave us the invitation. We will forever be thankful to everyone who participated during that time.”
This year’s theme was Celebrating a World of Music: The Universal Language. Because it was so broad, it provided an opportunity to truly showcase what makes Niceville such a special place. “When we heard what the theme was going to be, we had to ask ourselves, ‘What would resonate with our town the most?’ Being in a military community as strong as this one, we wanted to highlight patriotic songs like American Salute, America the Beautiful, and The Stars and Stripes Forever. We also added a jazz tune, Hey Pachuco, as jazz is a style of music that is uniquely American. We knew the Rose Bowl Parade and Bandfest (an event where the parade’s marching bands from around the world, along with their auxiliary members and dancers, get to perform and showcase their musicianship and distinct talents) were going to be international events. So, we wanted the kids to experience sharing their American music.”
To be ready for this trip, Eagle Pride members, the directors and families had to have a rigorous practice and preparation schedule, from rehearsal to fundraising. This particular parade posed unique challenges the band had to be ready for. “There were two main things—the performance aspect and the trip aspect. As far as the performance, this parade is infamous for having a 105-degree turn right at the beginning where all the major networks are broadcasting. With the width of the turn, we had to plan how to put 11 kids across, and how to do that turn to where each row looks like a straight line all the way through the turn. It took many rehearsals and hours, and the kids executed it well.
The other side, planning and fundraising for the trip, was accomplished primarily by our incredible parent volunteers. We could not have done this trip without their support. Moving 250 kids across the country is no small feat! We can’t thank the kids enough for hanging on from early in the semester to now, and the parents for really making sure that they had the best experience possible.”
From the moment they arrived in California, Eagle Pride began an incredible itinerary that took over a year to plan. In addition to the parade, highlights of the trip included seeing Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, visiting the California Science Center, float building for the parade in Pasadena, eating In-N-Out Burger, performing at Bandfest, watching an L.A. Kings Hockey Game (where Dan Wooten, the Director of Bands, was invited to ride the Zamboni!), going to Knott’s Berry Farm amusement park, and capping off the trip with a celebration dinner and dance on the Queen Mary.
On behalf of Mr. Wooten and Morgan Molina, the Assistant Director of Bands, Mr. Tenore wishes to send a message to everyone who supports this band: “Thank you so much. When we do trips like this, one of the biggest goals we have is to represent our small-town community at a high level. Performances like this allow us to highlight the talent of our students, their wonderful parents, and not only Niceville and Eglin Air Force Base, but the surrounding areas as well. We could not have done that without all the sponsorship, contributions and encouragement. We hope that we honored you in response.”
As Mr. Tenore thinks about the future of Eagle Pride, he wants families who might be considering the marching band as part of their child’s high school experience to know this: “Some middle school students may look at this trip and think, ‘I don’t know if I could do that.’ What we want them to be aware of, though, is that we design our band program to be as welcoming, supportive, inclusive and accessible as possible. If you’ve had a middle school band experience, we take you where you are, and will get you to where you can be as successful as you can be. Being a part of the largest organization on campus will also help you feel involved in the high school and safe around all of the new friends in your section,” he said.
“From the band to the color guard to the majorettes, the coaches and my mentors, Dan Wooten, Jeff Adams and Eddie Steadman, have provided the leadership that continues to permeate our entire program,” Mr. Tenore continued. “I could not be prouder of seeing the students we teach achieve so much and get the reception and recognition they have earned through their hard work. Dan, Morgan and I are truly grateful to be part of this wonderful organization and look forward to meeting incoming students.”
To help the marching band with their ongoing efforts, use the concession stands and purchase 50/50 raffle tickets during football games or support local restaurants’ Eagle Pride Spirit Nights. If you’re interested in donating or becoming a sponsor, email EaglePrideFinance@gmail.com.