Student Story: With Dedication And Hard Work, Oakcrest Marching Band Creates Life Lessons

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By: Michelle Esochaghi, Oakcrest High School, Mays Landing, N.J.

Oakcrest Marching Ambassadors are the 2021 Tournament of Bands Region 1 Group 1 Open Champions for Best Music, Best Visual, Best Auxiliary, and Best Percussion. Photo credit: Oakcrest Marching Ambassadors Facebook page.

MAYS LANDING, N.J. — The Oakcrest Marching Ambassadors had their first competition on September 18, 2021, at Williamstown High School, marking the start of their long-anticipated competition season. They started off strong, earning a first-place trophy with a score of 76.7 points, but were ranked fourth place in the overall leaderboard. On their second competition on September 25 at Southern Regional High School they continued their streak of success, coming home with another first place trophy and a score of 79.85, which pushed them to third place on the leaderboard.

During their most recent competition on October 2 at Absegami High School, the Ambassadors increased their score by an impressive 4.8 points earning them a total of 84.65 points. They went home with another first place trophy and have settled in at an impressive second place in just three competitions. The Ambassadors are trailing only 1.55 points behind Allegany, the band currently holding first place. This is an excellent start for the band, as their last competition season was two years ago, before Covid-19. Last year, the band could not participate in competitions and were restricted to performing only at home football games.

Incoming members of the band last year were unable to experience the nervous excitement of walking onto the field to compete and the triumph of hearing the announcer declare a winning score. They were only able to hear stories from the upperclassmen and returning members. Even so, the Oakcrest Marching Ambassadors have started this season with the intent to win. The Ambassadors have won six consecutive state championships and are aiming to put a seventh under their belt. They’ll have to rely on consistently exceptional scores to achieve their goal of earning a seventh championship win.

Though good scores don’t come without hard work and sacrifice, which is what the members of the band are asked to give every single day. Practice runs from 5:15 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays and almost every Saturday they are asked to arrive at 9:00 a.m. to start a six-hour practice session at 10:00 a.m.

Even during the summer, students were asked to come to school ready to practice hard. The Oakcrest Marching Ambassadors participate in local parades and assist their school with spirit related activities. When performance season started, they had to work even harder. With football games almost every Friday, practices and competitions every Saturday, and even some competitions landing on Sundays, many students found themselves challenged to juggle all these responsibilities on top of their schoolwork.

Madison Ventura, a student at Oakcrest High School and the Woodwind Captain of the Oakcrest Marching Ambassadors commented on her time as a Marching Ambassador. Madison has been a member of the band for three years, so she is quite familiar with how the band operates. She reflected on her significant lack of free time, but said that she was inspired to continue because of her love of music and the band itself.

“It’s fun, and it’s what I look forward to in the week,” Ventura said.  

She recalled when she first joined the Marching Ambassadors in 2019 and mentioned how at first, she regretted her decision because of all the work she was required to do.

“It’s very exhausting since we do everything every day,” Ventura said. Since then, she has learned more about time management, and she no longer regrets the long practices and hard work. “I don’t have time to waste on dumb stuff, and it’s fun because all my friends are in marching band,” Ventura added. Because of the large commitment that goes into marching band, it’s not a sport for everyone.

Rick Schwartz, the band teacher and director of the Oakcrest Marching Ambassadors, has mentioned several times to his students that they will spend more time with him than they will with their own parents. He has even said that some days, he spends more time with the band than he does with his own family. There are many sacrifices that have to be made in order for the band to continue being successful.

Schwartz has been teaching the Oakcrest Ambassadors since 2011 and plans to continue doing so for many more years to come. He has described marching band as being his whole life, as he has been doing marching band for over thirty years. In that period of time, marching band has taught him a lot about life, his students, and himself. It has taught him more about time management, patience, timeliness, promptness, and what his priorities should be in life. It has also allowed him to witness his students blossom.

There have been many cases where he would witness students enter the school as quiet and shy kids, but by the end of their time in marching band, they would be able to perform masterful solos with ease and grace. Schwartz said that the work may be time consuming, but it has been repaid by a factor of ten by simply seeing the students’ success and growth in the program.

Schwartz has also said that he believes it is important for students to be involved in music in general. “There are studies that show that music enhances science and math scores, but there is more than that,” he said. According to Schwartz, music can enhance certain skills that will teach students to be successful in all walks of life.

The Oakcrest Marching Band has a special place in the hearts of so many people in the community. Most of the staff that currently helps and teaches the students in the band are alumni from the Oakcrest Ambassadors. Even though marching band has the ability to take a heavy physical toll on those who participate in it, most of the people who end up participating fall in love with it. So much so that alumni from previous years came back to experience the joy and excitement that the new members experience and to help them succeed even further.

Marching band isn’t for everyone, as it requires a considerable amount of dedication and commitment, but for those who feel called to participate and meet the challenge ahead of them, it may prove to be a fulfilling and ebullient experience.

Michelle Esochaghi is a Junior at Oakcrest who aspires to work in computer engineering. She is a student in Ms. Twiggs’ Creative Writing Class.

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