By Andreas Yilma Citizen’s News
NAUGATUCK — They are the champions.
The Naugatuck High School marching band recently was named the best marching band in New England and came in the top third of the nation in its respective division.
The band competed in U.S. Bands Group II Open division and received first overall in New England out of four schools competing, and subsequently won the state championship in New Britain on Nov. 3. The band then battled in the same division at the national level and won third place out of seven schools at the MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. on Nov. 6.
This was the first time the band won best in the region & third best in the nation in their division. The band also won best music, best percussion, best color guard and best overall effect for the state and region.
Naugatuck High School Marching Band director Emanuel Arboleda said everyone at the school was excited to win in the competition, this year especially because of not having a competitive season last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re all absolutely thrilled,” Arboleda said.
Arboleda said the band members value family above everything else by doing everything as a family, according to Arboleda.
“We wanted to remember the season that we are really enjoying and the season that we knew where everyone had your back,” Arboleda said. “Everything kind of clicked. The winning was kind of a bonus at the end of the year.”
The band consists of 59 students, 20 of which are graduating this year. Students give up to 22 hours of their time each week to the program. Some band members are eighth-graders from City Hill Middle School and students from local schools, including Woodland High School and Waterbury Arts Magnet School. Those schools don’t offer a competitive marching band, according to Arboleda.
“Before every competition, we huddle up, I give a speech and goals and tie it back to the family aspect how everything we do, we do together and that everything we do, we do as family regardless of the results of the completion.” Arboleda said.
The band consists of seven color guards, or members who contribute to the visuals by spinning flags or rifles and two drum majors or conductors who are responsible for every member of the team. The band’s drum majors are senior Natalie DeLuca and junior Gavin Osborne.
“It was awesome, really no other way to describe it,” DeLuca said. “Those kids work so hard and it’s even better when the numbers show for it.”
Arboleda credits the success to the staff and Robert Hughes, the former band director, who created a strong sense of culture and community between the staff members and community.
The Naugatuck High School Greyhound Band Association, a nonprofit parent organization, plays a crucial role as they help fundraise and move the instruments and equipment. About a dozen parents consistently volunteer their time during big events. More than 10 parents volunteered for the competition, Arboleda said.
Arboleda, who was a music teacher from 2015 to 2018 at Salem Elementary School and Andrew Avenue Elementary School and an instructor for the high school marching band, left the school district three years ago to become a band director in Bethel before returning in July. He noticed an improvement with the band.
“When this position opened up, I noticed the band had gotten significantly better,” Arboleda said. “It was nice to see continued successes.”
Competitive bands overall struggled during the pandemic. It helped to be outside and have natural social distancing with the band drill formations. Band members didn’t have to quarantine and had a strong attendance, said Arboleda.
“After not being able to compete last year, it was amazing being back out there competing with other students who work just as hard and love the activity just as much,” DeLuca said.
Arboleda started a program at City Hill Middle School called Sound Sport in 2015 to get students exposed to necessary introductory music skills for the high school. He is hopeful to bring it back to spark interest among middle school students, he said.
Arboleda, who played trumpet for his first three years at Naugatuck High School before finishing his senior year in 2010 as a drum major, said he was thankful to be hired back into the district.
“It feels really good to be back,” Arboleda said.