Marching Raiders Cap Dominant Season With US Bands National Title

Marching Raiders Cap Dominant Season With US Bands National Title

“The people with the trees are here.”

That comment wasn’t necessarily meant as a compliment, but it did testify to the success, prevalence and sheer tour de force of the 2018 Loudoun County High School Marching Raiders. The band earned top scores in every competition it entered – including three in one day on one whirlwind weekend – and capped the season by winning the US Bands Class IV A National Championship Nov. 4 in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

The trees became the emblem of the Marching Raiders’ incredibly successful season, summing up the dedication, creativity and attention to detail of the students, staff, active and supportive parents organization – and a small band of worker bees known as the “pit crew.” Everywhere they went and in every competition they won, the 12, 10-foot trees were part of the story.

“I didn’t hear it (the comment about the trees), but one of the parents did,” Color Guard Director Kristy Lemieux said. “It shows that people know who you are and know that you put on a really good show.”

The Loudoun County High School band program has long been known for putting on good shows. The Raiders have been rated as an Honor Band – meaning it earned superior ratings both for marching and concert settings – for each of Director Darren Young’s 15 years at LCHS.

Young deflects credit to the students who take the direction and make the show come together, especially the student leaders: Drum Majors Sayda Martinez and Megan Hardman, and Color Guard Captains Madi Nuckolls and Sophia Macchiarolo.

“These are just great kids and they have a great work ethic,” Young said. “We set a goal every year and we work hard to reach it. We get to work the last week of July, and we go every day during August until school starts. These are the hardest working kids I have ever worked with.”

That sentiment was echoed by LCHS Principal Michelle Luttrell.

“We are incredibly proud of our Marching Raiders,” Luttrell said. “They are a talented group of young men and women led by a very dedicated and accomplished staff. They have worked very hard and are deserving of the title and recognition.”

Young has led the program for 15 years and Lemieux joined in 2009.

“Kristy marched with DCI (Drum Corps International) when she was young, so that is a tremendous help,” Young said. “She has been a big help with the visuals.”

Those “visuals” are a big part of the Marching Raiders’ success.

“It’s not just a band standing and playing music – it’s a production,” Lemieux said. “We start by talking about the idea of what music we like, and then we talk about colors, and how the color guard should dress. Now, with Mr. B, we have electronics integrated into the activity.”

“Mr. B” – Aaron Bertoglia – is the third piece of the directorial staff. He joined the Marching Raiders two years ago as drum instructor.

“He has just been amazing,” Young said. “He is a band parent but he is also a professional percussionist. If it weren’t for him, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”

The talents and hard work of the staff and students wouldn’t have made 30-plus performances this season if it weren’t for the parents organization and the road warriors known as the “pit crew.”

“They have some pretty crazy stories,” Young said. “For every performance, they have to make sure all the uniforms, instruments and equipment get there. Before and after every performance, they would have to build and then take apart those 10-foot trees. We had one day this year where we went to three different competitions. They had to load and unload everything three times in one day.”

Jimmy Csizmadia, whose daughter was a junior piccolo player and son will be part of the drumline next year, is president of the LCHS Marching Raiders Band Parents Organization. He also drove one of the three trucks hauling trailers loaded with the band’s equipment – and of course, the trees.

“Everything fit in two trailers last year, but this year we had to get a third trailer,” Csizmadia said. “We were fortunate that we were able to borrow one from Ted Sjersuth with the 9/11 Ride Foundation.”

In addition to hauling the equipment, Csizmadia have also been pressed into on-site mechanics on several occasions.

“We were on our way to the state championships for US Bands in Virginia Beach, and we blew a tire in Williamsburg,” Csizmadia said. “I had everything we needed on my truck, and we changed the flat and were back on the road within 10 minutes. We have a pretty nerdy pit crew.”

Another time, one of the trailers lost a wheel bearing on the way to a competition.

“We pulled over, and we were able to move the equipment into the foundation trailer and we drove the last 20 miles on three wheels,” Csizmadia said.

Along the way this year, the Marching Raiders “band family” managed to work in a few barbecues with the road trips.

“I bring the smoker in the back of my truck wherever we go and when we get there, everything is warm and we have a big tailgate party,” Csizmadia said.

Kurt Hassler, who was had of the BPO for two years, is also one of the road warriors.

“It’s unbelievable with all the props and the electronics and everything how much stuff we have to haul,” Hassler said. “We have a core group of people in the pit crew who show up every week. That is set. We always have people who are interesting in helping. If they are called upon, they will always help us. And one day this year, we did it for three different shows, and they came in first in every one of them. I got over 40,000 steps on my Fitbit that day.”

Hassler said the trees also figured into one of the more dramatic moments of the season.

“We were at Washington High School in Charles Town,” he said. “These are 10-foot trees on little carts with air-filled tires. It was so windy that near the end of the program, the trees started marching down the field on their own. That was quite a site to see.”

To quote the classic song, the band played on.

“The band never broke formation,” Hassler said. “A kid or two had to stop to avoid being hit by one of the trees, but they went right back into formation and finished the program. That’s a professional group.”

That “professional group” outshined every band in the state and, eventually, the country.

“That was the icing on the cake,” Lemieux said. “With all the hard work of the kids and parents, it was really nice to see them take a great production and do well with it. The title was the cherry on top.”

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Joseph Dill