Smithfield-Selma High School’s marching band is a national champion.
The band earned the title at USBands’ final competition of the year at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, the site of next year’s Super Bowl. The Spartan Regiment posted the highest score in its class, IV Open, and also achieved the highest score of all the 101 bands competing: 96.875.
Band director Brian Jones said the moment when judges announced the national winner was incredible.
“I had kids in my band that I’ve never seen shed a tear crying, like face swollen up from tears of just excitement, and everybody’s hugging, and people are coming up to the staff and saying thank you,” he said.
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Jones said he would have been just as proud of his students if they had placed last. “It was our best run,” he said. “That’s what I ask of from them. Every week, let’s just get better.”
The band’s journey to No. 1 was hard. Of its 101 members, about half had never been in marching band before; last year’s band was heavy on seniors. The band also used large props in its show, which was about being caught in traps. Students learned how to work with the 5-yard-wide, 10-foot-tall plastic jail props.
Originally, Jones planned to have a light season to let the rookies learn the ropes. But then USBands invited the Spartans to New Jersey because of a strong performance last year.
The competition was Nov. 9. While traveling on the bus on Friday, students learned their football team had broken its 40-game losing streak with a win against South Johnston High School. That weekend, the school’s cheerleading squad also won a competition.
“I’ve been at this school for 11 years, and I don’t think I’ve ever been as proud to be a Spartan, because every group was supporting each other, and it was genuine,” Jones said.
“It’s been amazing watching us grow,” said Kayla Urban, one of the band’s two drum majors. “We’ve grown closer as a team, and together we’ve just built each other up, and it’s amazing that our last performance ever was at MetLife Stadium in New York and we won the national championship.”
Most of the students had never been to New York City. As band members warmed up at Liberty State Park in New Jersey, they could see the Statue of Liberty in the distance.
Keith Williams, brass captain and trumpet player, last visited New York City when he was too young to remember. He said seeing the city was an experience.
“I was born and raised in Johnston County, so I’m used to, you know, big fields, open areas,” he said. “So when I went to New York, it sort of impacted you on how big it was. I’m just sitting here, and I have to crane back just to see the top of a building, and I’m used to two-story buildings being the highest building I see.”
Williams said winning the championship made him feel accomplished. “I’ve seen people in my section working at their fullest and trying their hardest,” he said. “And it’s just as physical as any other sport in my opinion, and it is extremely mental, and when you’re able to accomplish something like that, it’s the warm-fuzzies feeling you get when you feel like you’ve done something.”
Katy Hinton, the band’s other drum major who also marches with her alto sax, said winning felt surreal and amazing. “Coming in my freshman year, you don’t know much of anything, and you grow in only a few years,” she said. “It’s just amazing to see that with everyone here.”
“Like, we don’t have as big of a band as maybe we wished to have, but with the people we do have, it’s amazing to see what we’ve done,” she added. “And just the experience you have, it’s just a really cool thing. Win or lose, we’re having fun, you know?”