PHOENIX – After graduating a large senior class in 2016, the Phoenix Central School District’s marching band entered the season in rebuilding mode, and the end result exceeded all expectations.
The Firebirds, in the final show at the Carrier Dome in late October, nailed the performance with its best show of the season.
As the judges tallied the scores, the Phoenix contingent was hoping for a top four finish.
Separated by half a point, the top three New York state bands were announced, with Phoenix earning an 80.75 to edge out Union Endicott – triple the size of the Phoenix band – and Johnson City for the title of New York State Small School 2 Class champions.
“It’s all icing on the cake,” said band director Nick Gerling of the final performance. “It was a slow and steady journey this year, but the payoff at the end is something most deserving and unexpected at the same time. It makes this type of finish all that more special.”
Although the Firebirds wrapped up the season on top, their journey to the Governor’s Cup didn’t come without challenges and setbacks.
“Going into the year, we had some big shoes to fill,” said assistant marching band director Michelle Rudy. “We had many new members and even had to shuffle some of the color guard kids to instrumental roles to fill out the lineup. It was a challenge, but the kids made it work.”
With a third of the band members being new, and many in unfamiliar roles, the student musicians embraced the challenge and adapted to their new responsibilities.
Each practice and competition revealed improvement and the band began carving out its own identity, Gerling said.
“We really had our goals set on week-by-week improvement and building confidence,” he said.
Throughout the season, Gerling and Rudy stressed the importance of group unity and believing that anything was achievable.
That message was reinforced the morning of the final show, as Rudy told the band, “Have confidence in yourself, have confidence in each other and you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish.”
“We joked that we were the ‘little band that can’; becoming the ‘little band that could’; and then with the end result becoming the ‘little band that did,’” Gerling said.