By Alex Lippa
---- — Certain sounds are synonymous with high school football games: The bone-crunching hits, the raucous crowd cheering the home team on.
This year at Haverhill High games, another classic sound is returning after a six-year absence — the music of the high school marching band.
For the first time since the 2006-2007 school year, the band has enough participation for a full-fledged marching group. The band made its debut at the home-opening football game at Trinity Stadium on Sept. 14, and is looking to improve each week to the point where it can march and play during the Santa Parade in November
“The energy is very, very high among these kids,” said Joseph Leary, the band’s director. “They are just thrilled to be out on the field.”
The band consists of close to 30 students in the city’s middle schools and high school. They are currently stationed under the scoreboard and play during the football game. Eventually, Leary hopes the band will grow to include about 70 students who will play on the field at halftime.
So far, the reviews have been stellar.
“The biggest thing is the overwhelming amount of enthusiasm that we are getting from everyone that it’s back,” Leary said. “It never really went away, but it wasn’t what people were accustomed to. We didn’t have a big presence. We had a small pep band. Overall, the enthusiasm that we’re getting is more than gratifying. They missed it and they wanted it back.”
The ability to perform at the games is something that students doubted would ever come back.
“I had no idea about this,” said Eric Hewitt, a freshman guitar player. “I was just going to join the jazz band. I really had a great time at our first game and I heard from my friends and family that they really enjoyed it.”
The return of the band even brought back memories for Haverhill’s most prominent citizen.
“The band was my whole life for years when I was in high school,” said Mayor James Fiorentini. “I played the clarinet. I wasn’t sure it would be able to get back to this, but it did.”
In previous years, the band had traveled to Disney World and Williamsburg, Virginia, where it performed in competitions every few years. Leary knew the group was in trouble when that competition came around again in 2008 and the band was lacking numbers.
“We typically would have gone back, but we only had a few kids signed up,” he aid. “The band never totally went away, but it lost a semblance of what it used to be.”
But when new superintendent James Scully arrived, the band re-entered the spotlight.
Due to budget problems, the band program had been cut from middle schools, eliminating a feeder program that supplied young members to the high school band.
“Resources were put into place,” Leary said. “We got a full-time middle school instructor, as well as part-time percussion and color guard instructors.’’
With pictures from years past decking the walls of Leary’s office, his new batch of kids know the band’s history and are ready to start a new chapter.
“The kids who were here now they don’t know about this history,” he said. “These walls are like a museum and it shows them what it used to be. Now they are part of the rebirth.”