Five high school marching bands endured the cold and occasional spots of rain to compete at the Wildcat Classic held at Valencia High School on Saturday.
Lompoc High School, Littlerock High School, Canyon High School, Saugus High School and Valencia High School vied for the top spot at the competition – which was rigorously judged by professionals with strict criteria.
The event was hosted by West Ranch High School, which was being judged, but wasn’t competing against the other schools – per tradition of the event, the host usually does not compete.
Stephen Hufford, director of instrumental music at West Ranch, said he was proud of everyone who helped put the event together.
“I absolutely feel proud of everything that the students and staff have done to put in for this show. I think that we’ve been pushing really hard from the very beginning all the way back in July when we started,” said Hufford. “We’ve been working up to this moment and never let up even though it felt like there were a lot of times we always treated every single rehearsal as if every second was crucial for us and I think for our staff, they take time outside of rehearsal to come up with lesson plans, so that we can be as efficient as possible and give students the best opportunities that they could have.”
Hufford, who took over the director’s position in January, has stepped into some big shoes. West Ranch has a history of success with its marching band – already having won 10 Southern California School Band and Orchestra Association championships.
While grateful for his time at Canyon High School, Hufford said stepping up to, and hopefully even surpassing, the already high expectations of West Ranch’s band was a challenge – but one that he was up for.
“I want to start by saying I absolutely loved my time at Canyon, and it was great, and we actually achieved a lot of success there as well,” said Hufford. “But, I looked forward to this challenge because it’s a bigger program, so it has more elements to it… because the students start playing music earlier, they start, in elementary school on that side of the valley, we were able to achieve some really amazing results by the end of their high school experience. I wanted to push myself as a musician and as a teacher to see what I could do with the students that are at West Ranch.”
Hufford said retaining the core staff of people that led to West Ranch’s previous successes was key moving forward, as was pushing the students in the program to continue their hard work as they adjusted to having him step in as director.
“The first thing I wanted to make sure to do as I came in was the fantastic team that they already had in place. So a lot of the staff members that worked the previous seasons with the bands are still around, I would say most of them. So even though I’m a different director, the core team of people is still the same,” said Hufford. “So that way, we can keep that same tradition of success moving forward. And then right away when I came in, I started pushing the students to practice more and to kind of take the entire program as seriously as they do with marching bands… And we were able to earn the highest rating possible for the festival, which is unanimous superior, meaning every judge thought that we deserved the highest rating. So that was a good way to start setting up the success culture with me, so they knew that it would be the same. I think that it was great for me to start that semester to kind of show them that I’m going to have their back and make sure that they’re still performing at a very high level and for them to get to know me for a whole semester before we started doing marching band competitions in the fall.”
One of the competitions Hufford, and the whole band, was preparing most for was Saturday’s Wildcat Classic. Event organizer and vice president of operations of West Ranch’s music program, Ashley Erickson, said although the event is much smaller in scale this year – it being the first since the pandemic – it’s still very important because it’s one of the band program’s biggest fundraisers.
“Our whole program is based on competitions. We do football games, but we go for competitions. That’s, you know, kind of the heart of our program is competing,” said Erickson. “So having one local is important for other local bands but it’s also an important fundraiser for us. It’s a huge fundraiser for us. It’s what allows us to be able to do our trip where we traveled to another competition. Next weekend we’re going to San Diego and we’ll be competing there. So it’s what pays for a large portion of our program.”
The president of the Booster Program – which is how West Ranch’s music department is funded – Josh Franck, said he appreciated all the schools that came out, even though things had to be scaled back.
“So, but just that we appreciate that our fellow bands are here to support us when there’s only five bands here and three of them are local bands,” said Franck. “That’s great, you know, and I would like to express that gratitude.”
As for the results of the competition, Valencia High won the tournament and auxiliary sweepstakes. Littlerock High was the winner in division 1-A, Valencia was the winner in 2-A, and Saugus and West Ranch won their divisions by default – although West Ranch did not technically compete, it was judged.
“There are some things they are actually exceeding expectations, and then there are other things – being able to perform under all the pressure,” wrote Bob Grigas, Saugus’ band director, in a press release. “They’re really good musicians, they’re really good at performing at school. But when it comes to performing in public they get a little scared and nervous and make mistakes. My expectations of them for the performance aspect could grow a little bit.”