Brinda Suresh, Samantha DeMartino and Dylan Shah march with the Raven Regiment during an October 2018 football game at Robbinsville High School. (File photo by Suzette J. Lucas.)

Robbinsville High School’s marching band was used to being overshadowed by other clubs and sports. Not a lot of people even knew they competed, but that all changed in October.

The Raven Regiment took first place at this year’s state championship, winning over the crowd at Rowan University with their performance entitled “Connections.” It is the band’s first state championship.

A week later, on Nov. 4, the Raven Regiment performed at the U.S. Bands National Championships in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and took home the trophy for second place. It competed against bands from across New England and the Mid-Atlantic.

The Raven Regiment’s unique show centered on a concept most teens and adults know all to well—how modern technology can interfere with human, face-to-face, relationships. The band’s original music, written by composer John Max McFarland, was enhanced by a voiceover to help the crowd take home the message. They defined the word “connection” from four perspectives, told a story of what it means to be connected to someone and shared a history of technology advancement and the ways it affects how people relate to one another.

When band members found out they were taking a state championship trophy home for the first time in the school’s history, they were flooded with emotion.

“Seeing the members so happy and accomplished reminded me of why I joined in the first place,” said Hannah Dimatulac, color guard co-captain.

The win was hard-earned. The Raven Regiment attended a two-week-long band camp during the summer, where they practiced for eight hours a day in the heat. They rehearsed for two to three hours every week, once fall started. They performed for Friday night football games and practiced for 12 hours on Saturdays.

They put physical demands on their bodies to build up their endurance. They ran, they danced, and they practiced drill techniques.

But the students wanted to work even harder, rehearse more. So they would manage sectionals amongst themselves and practice individually. It paid off.

“To see them finally be rewarded for their hard work was a good feeling,” said Birch Wilson, band director and music teacher. “Seeing the looks on the kids’ faces was an honor.”

Wilson uses music as a catalyst to teach his students about life lessons and leadership skills. He enjoys passing down the motivational messages his mentors instilled in him. He’s happy to be able to provide a place for the students to express themselves and be part of something greater than them.

“He gives us pep talks all the time about maintaining focus to get something done,” said Johnathan Todd, the band’s drum major.

Wilson’s students are paying attention and the long practices are helping to shape them for the future. Take Dimatulac, who’s typically a shy person. Leading the color guard helped her find her voice and taught her about the responsibility of being a positive role model to others.

The marching band members are well aware of the value of their hard work and commitment. But they felt an extra boost of confidence when their school recognized them. Todd loved hanging their state banner in the common area of the high school. Dimatulac enjoyed hearing their win broadcasted over the loudspeaker during morning announcements.

“All the days rehearsing under the sun, for hours on end, finally paid off,” Dimatulac said.

Returning members will know a championship is possible now that they’ve tasted that sweet victory. They’ll once again practice on those hot summer days, run their laps and practice their drill routine. They’ll rehearse for hours under the scorching sun until every beat is on point and every member is in line.

They’ll be joined by new members, who will soon learn what they’ve gotten themselves into: the chance to form a tight bond with their peers and make memories to last a lifetime—and maybe, take home another trophy.