Hard work pushes Roma High marching band to historic new heights

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At the UIL 5A State Marching Band competition with about half the size of other bands, the Roma High School marching band went above and beyond by becoming the first Valley 5A band in history to advance to the state finals, according to band director Dena Laurel.

Competing in San Antonio at the Alamodome on Nov. 6 and 7, Laurel said Roma has a long history of advancing to state. Becoming the band director in 2008, she said the band has advanced to state in every competition year since 2001.

She added that the band advanced to state finals in 2003, 2005 and 2007 in 4A.

The band came close to advancing to the 5A state finals in 2021 but missed it by one spot, coming in at 13th place in the preliminary stage.

Almost two decades since their last state final appearance, the gladiator band made history by advancing to 5A state finals and placing tenth in the state, a first in the Valley, Laurel said.

“I’ve always had a goal that I want the Roma kids to know that they fit in among the best of the state no matter where they’re from, where the other kids are from, what resources that they might have available, how large their programs are,” Laurel said. “It doesn’t matter in the end. Hard work is hard work.”

Laurel said students come into the marching band with a hard work ethic that they get from their parents and in general from the Roma community.

“It makes me so proud to take them to state because I want to show off to the state what we have down here in a very small area that maybe a lot of the state isn’t even aware that exists.” she said.

The name of the performance was called “Out of the Blue” and is centered around the play of the word blue.

The performance pieces were “Rhapsody in Blue” by George Gershwin, “Hymn to a Blue Hour” by John Mackey and “Blue Shades” by Frank Ticheli.

The music was arranged specifically for the band and there were lots of features and soloists and small groups that were featured with the band,” Laurel said. “It’s a small band, 131 students and … everybody had a part of it and it was a show that was a lot of fun.”

Edgar Garza, a sophomore trumpet player, said the whole experience felt amazing especially knowing how big of a deal it is to the city of Roma and the high standard for the marching band.

“It just felt like crazy because when we had made finals, it had already been like confirmed that we’re at least one of the top 12 bands in the state,” Garza said. “Like that felt crazy because Texas is pretty big … and this little town and this band from Roma is tenth best in this entire state. It’s crazy.”

Joanna Vazquez, a senior flute player, said it was an unbelievable experience, especially considering that the band had missed state finals in 2021.

“I feel it’s like a big honor to represent where we’re from,” Vazquez said. “(Roma) is so small but like there’s a lot of people that … this is their passion … and it just basically shows how much we care and how much we love to do this.”

Naydelleen Salinas, a senior drum major, said she was in shock when they announced the Roma marching band was advancing to state finals.

“I feel like being one of the best bands, top ten in the state, it’s like it’s giving Roma a name,” Salinas said. “Because I feel like before that competition not a lot of people knew Roma (or) where Roma is. When they would ask us like ‘where are you guys from?’ We’d be like ‘Roma,’ and they’d be like ‘Oh, where is that?’ and I feel like it kind of put us on the map.”

Before even stepping up to perform at the state competition, Laurel said she lets her band know of how proud she is of them for putting in the hard work and hours of practice. The performances and awards are just icing on the cake for her.

Asked how it feels to make her band kids feel proud to be where they are from, Laurel took a few seconds to collect herself before answering, “I’m very proud. It’s a hard question to answer but I always felt kids from anywhere can do anything but it just makes me very proud to be a part of it in a small town.”

She said with all the supposed setbacks for kids in a small border town such as Roma, the band members made up their minds to do something, worked hard toward it and ultimately in the end of it made history for Roma High School and the Valley.