WILDWOOD — The chapter in the lives of Maryse Biernat and Megan Melega of Southern Regional High School spent perfecting and executing their marching band color guard routines ends Sunday when they compete in the finals of the Tournament of Bands Indoor Championships.
Oceanfront Arena has been filled with more than 3,000 percussionists, dance teams, twirlers and color guard squads of ages 5 to 22 competing for awards since Thursday. The groups come from nine eastern U.S. states.
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Besides the Southern Regional novice percussion and intermediate color guard, other southern New Jersey groups involved with the competitions have been Cumberland Regional’s novice percussion section; the independent color guard group Evolution, led by Chris Jones of Whitesboro; and the independent novice color guard squad TaCET, directed by Erin Leifer of Manahawkin. TaCET is also taking part in Sunday’s finals.
The teams that performed the best in the preliminaries Thursday and Friday moved in the finals Saturday and Sunday.
When Biernat and Melega, both 17, of Manahawkin, graduate from high school next month, their school band careers will be behind them. They will attend Richard Stockton College in the fall. It doesn’t have a marching band program.
“It will feel good. There may be some little tears,” said Biernat about her last competition.
They and 14 other teammates did well enough with their burglary-of-a-museum-inspired routine to make Sunday’s finals. They moved from third place in the preliminaries into second place, entering the finals in the scholastic intermediate color guard category, where they will compete against eight other school teams.
In the marching band, Biernat played flute and piccolo. Melega played clarinet, tenor saxophone and bass drum. They performed with the marching band for all four years of high school and with the color guard for the last three.
“We want it to continue. It means a lot to everybody,” said Biernat, who will speak to eighth graders this week about joining the band next year.
Whether being in a school marching band program is cool or whether contests between band sections qualify as sports competitions are subjects of debate, but it is less arguable that marching bands and their various sections have received more attention in recent years.
The 2002 movie “Drumline,” starring Nick Cannon, told the fictional story of a talented street drummer from Harlem who was expected to lead a southern university’s marching band drumline to victory. On May 13, 475 movie theaters nationwide, including the Showcase at the Ritz Center, Voorhees Township, Camden County, will show highlights from last year’s Drum Corps Internationals’ World Championships.
The number of people who came here this weekend for indoor marching band section competitions, both participants and spectators, increased from 5,500 last year to 6,000 this year, said John Drummond, the coordinator for the weekend for the National Judges Association.
With the football team nowhere in sight and the blaring horns silenced, the various school and independent color guards can show off the creative and artistic side of their work. They combine some acting, costumes, props and backdrops with the mandatory dance and gymnastics moves and use of flags and fake rifles and sabres.
“It has grown since I’ve been in it,” said Jones, 33, about the popularity of school bands. “They are more well known nationally and internationally. There are a couple of indoor color guard programs in Europe, Japan and Canada.
Jones designed a routine based on the John Lennon song “Imagine” for his independent indoor color guard team named Evolution. He also works with the outdoor band color guard at Absegami and the outdoor band color guard at Middle Township. Evolution features members from Atlantic, Cape May, Gloucester and Camden counties.
Evolution came in fifth out of six teams, just missing the cut for Sunday’s finals. With the commitment already made to be here this weekend, Jones and his team planned to spend their time checking out all the other groups and seeing what they had to offer.
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