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According to director John Alstrin, when they competed at the 2017 UIL State Marching Contest in Texas, the Prosper High School band wasn’t fully expecting to make it all the way into finals.
Instead, they expected to perform Tuesday in prelims, and then have a day to prepare for a Thursday trip to Indianapolis and an inaugural appearance at last year's BOA Grand Nationals.
“We thought we had a chance,” Alstrin said. “But we thought it was a low chance.”
For the very first time, the band competed in UIL State Marching Band finals at the 5A level. Performing during the Wednesday night finals competition, undoubtedly, left the members with the accomplishment they never knew they had earned.
But, it also left the band with a one-day turnaround to get to Indiana.
“It was like the best-case and worst-case scenario happening all at the same time,” Alstrin said. “We made state finals, got on buses and went to Lovefield (Airport) in Dallas, flew up, and had that transition.”
In the process, Prosper learned plenty about itself and its progress as a band program in regards to competition. The band also learned, logistically speaking, it could pull off a dream week of competition for its students.
“We knew it was possible,” Alstrin said.
So, Alstrin and company decided to do it all over again in 2018. The result? A nine-day, 3,000-plus-mile journey to three different venues that could potentially hold as many as eight performances—starting with a Friday night football game at Allen High School.
Saturday morning, the band will travel over 300 miles to San Antonio’s Alamodome for the BOA San Antonio Super Regional. Starting with a 2 PM CT prelims time on Saturday, Prosper will compete with over 80 other bands, all but one of which hail from the "Lone Star" state.
After finals close out on Saturday night, Prosper will return to the Alamodome on Monday for yet another 2 PM performance to open up competition at the UIL State Marching Band Contest 6A Prelims. Their sights are already set on a second-consecutive spot in Tuesday’s state finals, this year.
Prosper placed seventh in the 5A classification at last year’s event and earned a spot in this year’s 6A state competition after placing fourth at last week’s Area B contest.
"That Crazy Transition"
“The state marching contest moved one day earlier, so we knew that state was going to be on Monday and Tuesday,” Alstrin said. “We happened to advance this year, so we’re going to state, and if we make finals at state, we’ll go up Tuesday, and then we have that crazy transition, but we have another day to work with.”
Wednesday, dubbed “that crazy transition” will ramp up to full speed quickly. While every other Texas band wraps up its competitive marching season at the UIL State Marching Band championships, Prosper will hop on a charter flight to Indianapolis and be the lone Texas representative at the 2018 BOA Grand National Championships.
The band’s appearance at this year’s Grand Nationals starts bright and early; brighter and earlier than any other competitor, in fact. Prosper will open Thursday’s portion of prelims competition with a performance time of 7:45 AM.
On one hand—the obvious—that’s a quick, exhausting turnaround from a Wednesday afternoon flight. Prosper will start Thursday rehearsals around 5 AM, a little over two hours before the members’ classmates will begin arriving at school back home in Texas.
“In making our decision in May (to go to Indianapolis), that gave us the unfortunate first on spot, so that’s the other tough thing about this,” Alstrin said. “We’ve got to get our kids up early and get them going and try to make a strong impression on that first showing for the panel.”
On the bright side, though, an early performance will give members the opportunity to rest and reload for the remainder of Thursday and Friday, complete homework assignments, take in the event, and grab a breather before what they hope will be another semifinals performance Saturday afternoon.
“The nice thing is, once we’re there, we have all of Friday off,” he said. “So the kids can watch bands, we can rehearse, we can sleep, we can shop. We can kind of just get there and get our heads on straight for our semifinals run.”
While such a full week of competition will be plenty exciting, to say the least, the question still remains—why? Further, why this year, when every other Texas-based program has made the decision to take a step back from Grand Nationals to focus on UIL?
As Alstrin explained, it was, largely, a competitively-driven decision. After reaching new heights in both state and national circuits last year, the up-and-coming Prosper band saw 2018 as a chance to build upon those successes, to go up against a very different group of BOA competitors.
“It’s not that it’s a softer competition, insofar as—if we’re going to go either this year or next year, we want to go the year that all of our friends are not going,” Alstrin said. “We know what that does to the odds.”
“We’re expecting an onslaught of 6A (UIL) schools to go next year,” he added. “We don’t know how many, but we’re expecting a bunch of them.”
And with the Prosper Independent School District set to split into two high schools in 2020, the window for Alstrin’s program to capitalize on its recent competitive growth is, arguably, closing rather quickly.
“When I saw that there were no Texas bands, and knowing that the school district is going to open the second high school, we’ve got two more seasons before we split,” Alstrin said. “So, I talked to the superintendent, and the principal, and I got permission to go this year.”
“The excitement level is a 10 out of 10,” Alstrin said.
At the end of the day, the opportunity to take advantage of that growth goes back to, as Alstrin said, a supportive administration, but also a widely helpful and engaged group of parents, and, of course, a hard-working group of students.
“We could not do it without the parents, and we have an administration that supports the fine arts and makes this kind of stuff reachable and attainable for us,” Alstrin said. “We would not be doing this without an administration that supports music education and parents that are totally bought into what this does for their kids.”
And with all of the different pieces coming together and falling into place, the next nine days will likely not soon be forgotten by those involved with the Prosper band program.
“The excitement level is a 10 out of 10,” Alstrin said. “That’s part of the reason we designed this, is because we saw what it did for the kids in the program last season… When you extend the season, and you have these competitions back to back, the show just ratchets up a notch and it goes to a completely different level.”