VAN ALSTYNE — For Van Alstyne’s senior drum major Becca Bouley, there were countless hours spent over the last four years practicing and rehearsing — a high school career full of early mornings and late nights. And yet each year ended with the same result: an early ticket home from the district marching band competition.
“Before, we didn’t really understand the importance of making it to state. It had never been pushed on us before,” said Bouley. “But if we hadn’t qualified this year, I definitely would have felt like we didn’t complete our goals. We have achieved a lot. If we wouldn’t have made it I would have still been proud of all the work that we put in, but it would have felt like something was missing.”
That “something,” a state-qualifying marching band, has been missing from Van Alstyne for, well, ever. In fact, the school of 414 has only advanced past the district level once, qualifying for the area competition 14 years ago. So to say the students were excited upon learning they’d be competing against other 2A schools in the Alamodome next week, might be an understatement.
“There was a lot of screaming, a lot of crying,” said Band Director Tim Fulton.
“And that was just him!” added his assistant, Sydney Cooper, with a wink and a laugh. Putting a legacy of limited success in the rearview mirror has a tendency to create that kind of levity.
“It’s hard to be ‘kinda good’ for a long time and not really ever get there,” said Cooper. “There have been talented kids here for a long time, they just needed someone to do something with them. They just needed the extra push.”
That push is something with which Fulton is very familiar. During his high school career two decades ago, just up the road in Howe, he marched in two state-champion bands. When he took the job in Van Alstyne two years ago, he immediately went about instilling the same set of expectations he learned as part of the Howe program, which this year qualified for state a 12th time. Whitesboro and Sherman high schools are also headed to state this year.
“We worked on drive, commitment, discipline, the will and the want — just making them believe in themselves,” said Fulton. “Us being able to compete with other bands like Howe, that always goes (to state), that’s a pretty big deal. At first, they had a hard time believing that they could do it.”
Bouley, the drum major, said once those values became ingrained, the rest took care of itself.
“The difference this year is that it is the first time the whole band has wanted this opportunity,” she said. “Last year wasn’t a state year but it was a building year, and then, this year, we all knew we wanted to be like the bands in our area that go to state. It’ll be even better when we make finals and take home the first place championship.”
That hard-won confidence is vital, said Fulton, but he’s taking extra steps to ensure the group is as prepared as possible. The band will take advantage of a favor called in by a parent who’s a Baylor alumnus, and practice at the college stadium in Waco on Sunday. Fulton explained that he hopes a dry run in a large stadium will help calm some nerves.
Senior Amanda Atchison, who serves as captain of the color guard, said she hopes their accomplishments this year will serve as a building block for future classes.
“Not only is (making state) a really big personal accomplishment, it’s a legacy for Van Alstyne,” she said. “I think since we have a lot of freshman seeing how well we can do, they can do the same thing as they progress over high school. We’re making history for our band and our town.”
Atchison crossed her arms nervously as she spoke, shooting an annoyed look at Fulton for volunteering her for the third degree. Asked to reflect on whether the band’s accomplishments are a validation of all those practices over her high school career, she paused, and then seemed to sum up the feelings of the band, and, perhaps, for the rest of the town as well.
“I mean, I’m super stoked we’re going!”