Sha Brewer, president of the Wilmer-Hutchins High School marching band’s booster club, was still sewing patches to band uniforms Wednesday, just days before she would pile into a bus and head to New Orleans, along with 80 high school students, marching band staff members and chaperones.
Five years after forming, the Wilmer-Hutchins’ “Marching Music Machine” has been invited to play the half-time show at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome during the 2017 Sugar Bowl, which will be a match between the Auburn Tigers and the Oklahoma Sooners. The marching band was formed in 2011 after the Dallas Independent School District reopened the school in the former Wilmer-Hutchens Independent School District.
“This is probably one of the biggest things we’ve ever done, and we may be the first school in DISD’s history to ever participate in an event like this,” Brewer told the Observer over the phone while trying to keep her stitches straight. “Just because you’re invited doesn’t mean you’re going to raise this kind of money.”
Band director Carlton Cooper says that the opportunity was presented to students and families alike at the end of the 2015-2016 school year. After meeting with parents this February, Brewer, who was in charge of fundraising for the band, says it took some time to persuade parents that the band’s trip to the Sugar Bowl would be worth the expense.
“It was hard work is what it was,” Brewer said with a laugh. She added that many businesses helped sponsor the band’s trip and that the community rallied behind them, despite some initial doubts.
“Before we could say, ‘Yeah, we’re going to go,’ we had to meet with the parents and say, ‘OK parents, this is going to be a big commitment and everybody has to be involved,’” Brewer said. “This is not going to just be a down-the-road trip, it’s going to be a trip that costs us probably in excess of $100,000, and so of course when people hear that number it frightens everybody.”
The chance to let students in the band showcase their meticulously choreographed routines on a national stage seemed to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Cooper and Brewer. They both said they had never heard of another Dallas Independent School District marching band being invited to play in such a high-profile and out-of-state game.
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“A lot of high schools in the Dallas metroplex will only go as far as the football games and, you know, a few local parades, and never really step out into the big stage,” Cooper says. “So I just kind of took a big step out there to see if that’s something that we could possibly do. Maybe since we opened the door a few other bands can possibly go that route as well.”
Practice for the band started as early as June, Cooper says. He ran the students through their paces in the summer heat, but he says he believes that pushing his students makes them better performers when the spotlight is on them. “It kind of gets a little blistering for the kids, but I think if we kind of push them to that threshold and kind of work them … when they put the uniform on and go out and actually perform, it’s a lot easier,” Cooper said.
The band is already on their way, and will be performing for Louisiana crowds, in parades and a battle of the bands before the day of the big game. Brewer, an alumna of Wilmer-Hutchins High School whose son was also in the band before graduating in the new high school’s first graduating class after reopening in 2011, says she can breathe a little easier now that the game is so close.
“It’s been a lot of hard work, I have a team of boosters and we’ve been at it since February and so now it’s all finally here. It’s not coming together; it’s here,” Brewer said. “You don’t want to pass up things like this when you have the opportunity to have them, so we are very thankful and grateful to have this opportunity.”