The 2021 high school marching band competition season featured many highlights for the Santa Clarita Valley’s high schools, including a Division 4A championship for West Ranch High School in the Southern California School Band & Orchestra Association field championships held in Riverside.
The championships, reserved for each division’s top 12 qualifying teams, included West Ranch, Saugus, Castaic, Valencia, Hart and Canyon high schools competing in three different divisions. And, with the 2020 marching band season having been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was a welcome return to competition for the local band members.
West Ranch band director Brian Leff said the band took awards for music, high auxiliary, percussion and color guard in the recent championships, having gone into the final competition with four high scores and three grand sweepstakes titles under its belt from previous competitions earlier this fall.
“Saturday night at championships, we won the gold and had the highest overall band score,” Leff said.
Many of the band members had no previous marching band experience and had to be caught up to the system at West Ranch. Additionally, Jason Marshall, who had served 16 years as band director at West Ranch, had departed to accept a vice principal role at Hart High School.
Leff, who was previously in charge of jazz studies, took over as band director but credited percussion, visual and color guard caption heads Julio Diaz, Jay Kamp and Esther Kamp with a smooth transition in preparing the band for the season.
“They made it really easy on me to come in and just focus on the music aspect, which is my main focus for working with the marching band,” Leff said.
Leff was amazed at the dedication from freshmen and sophomores and mentorship from the seniors, which he credits for their success at the championships.
A young team with a system now in place will see many band members returning, and Leff looks forward to next season, especially with the expectations being so high for 2022.
“Thanks to all of our parents because we can’t have a season without them,” Leff said. “It takes a village to run everything that happens.”
Tim Haddock, the director of publicity for the Saugus band and color guard, said this year was the first time Saugus made the championships in five years. In addition, the band went from not qualifying in five years to placing sixth place in Division 4A.
Haddock said the band performed as expected and members were excited to qualify for the championship. The band worked hard during the pandemic and had a strong color guard able to propel the team into the competition, and with the leadership of the seniors, kept the band prepped.
“The seniors on this band are great leaders,” Haddock said. “They kept all the kids in the band sharp and excited about the band even though they weren’t competing last year.”
Saugus exceeded expectations even during the season, winning sweepstakes in competitions at Quartz Hill and Oxnard High School, according to Haddock.
“It was nice to see them actually win competitions overall during the year,” Haddock said. “It gave them a lot of confidence, and it just showed how strong the leadership was with the seniors on the band.”
In its inaugural year, Castaic High School competed in Division 1A and took sixth place in the championship.
“I could not be more proud of this team and their accomplishments,” band director Mark Judd said about the young marching band.
The team is predominantly made up of freshmen, sophomores and juniors, with the color guard only training in the last four months, according to Judd.
“It felt great to perform again,” Judd said. “The feeling of live performance and the pride seen on each kid’s face as they marched off the field at championships was a medal in itself.”
Valencia High School placed tenth in Division 2A out of a total of 37 bands in the entire division, according to band director Kelvin Flores.
Every year, Valencia’s goal is to reach the championships, which indicates the band’s level of musicianship and artistry through hard work, Flores said.
Because of the pandemic, Valencia faced similar obstacles as the other high schools, and with many new, younger members and many students not returning this season, the Valencia band was reclassified from Division 3A to 2A, with a majority of the members never having marched before.
Lorraine Kohagen, color guard head for Valencia, said, “Watching all of the color guard students come off the field with a sense of pride and enthusiasm is something that cannot be taken away from them.”
Terry Collier, president of the Valencia marching band and color guard boosters, said it was a remarkable achievement for a band with so many members not having previous competition experience.
“To reach the championships with a majority of the marching band and color guard completely new to competitions — especially with the challenging music and program they did this year — is just a testament to these kids’ hard work and the staff’s dedication,” Collier said.
Flores appreciates the memories and lessons learned, saying, “We are much more appreciative of the opportunity to make music and put on a spectacle together.”
Students bonded in a way that was impossible last year and made memories the students will cherish for a lifetime, according to Flores.
“The students poured out their hearts and talent on the field to reach a high level of proficiency and artistry,” Flores said. “We look forward to continuing to grow and improve next marching season.”
Hart High School took second place in Division 4A, just three points short of West Ranch High School’s first-place score.
Hart High School and Canyon High School band representatives did not respond to requests for comment.