Highlander Band marches home with a national championship win under their belt


West Milford’s Highlander Band performs a winning show at Nationals in Allentown, PA.

West Milford’s Marching Band program is one of the school’s most popular and prolific that is offered here, producing a number of dedicated and talented musicians who go on to pursue careers in music post-high school. The program is valiantly led to success by its Director, Dr. Brian McLaughlin, and Assistant Director, Mr. Matthew Gramata. While a rigorous rehearsal and competition schedule takes up the lives of students in the marching band, it’s hard to find one who would tell you that participating in the program has been anything but a positive learning experience. The hard work of the musicians doesn’t go unappreciated by West Milford citizens; the musical performances on Friday night football games are met with rowdy applause and disbelief, and many spectators have been known to go solely to see the band rather than the game.

After the season’s start in July and daily rehearsals following that, the band has been participating in competitions each week, which is to continue until the season’s close in after the annual band Tattoo, at the high school, on November 13th. October 2nd was the Yamaha Cup competition at MetLife Stadium, which is well known as the stadium now used by the New York Giants and New York Jets. Many band students hail the MetLife competition as one of the most exciting and gratifying performances early in the competition season. West Milford Marching Band placed 2nd in Group III, with the 1st place title going to Ridge High School of Somerset County. Ridge squeaked by with a score of 82.700 out of the possible 100.000, beating out West Milford by a mere 3 points. While this is undoubtedly an incredible accomplishment for the band, its dedicated members had mixed opinions on the competition results.

I never give us expectations for placement. Yes, a first place trophy would be nice, but that’s not the point.

— Maxine Kunz, Head Drum Major

“I never give us expectations for placement. Yes, a first place trophy would be nice, but that’s not the point. I’m focused on what we produce, rather than how that stacks against what others produce,” says Head Drum Major Maxine Kunz. “I’m still happy with our placement, though. Second place isn’t a bad start and I have a feeling our score will only improve.” Shane Duffy, the band’s Assistant Drum Major, has a similarly optimistic outlook, “Second place says that we are doing the right thing, we just need more of it.” He goes on to explain how their placement proved to be more of an advantage than anything, “Over the past week I’ve seen nothing but growth and it seems like we’re stepping harder on the gas than ever,” he says. Junior musician Kat Garcia, who has been active in the WMHS music program for years, weighs in with her thoughts.

“The first year performing [at MetLife] is always nerve wracking and those nerves really don’t go away, but the thrill of just being there is wonderful. I think our placement in the competition was a great start to our season considering we aren’t 100% done with our show,” she reasons. Other members, who have been involved with the music program anywhere from one to six years, all concurred. The Metlife competition clearly puts forth a challenge by which the band is both daunted and excited.

In regards to the rest of the band season, the musicians seem to be in agreement that the season couldn’t have come to a better close. The statewide competition at Union High School was held on October 30th. In a spectacular showing of their hard work and ability, the band won 1st place and was slated to move onto the national level. Just a week later, in the midst of an nerve-wracking night filled with technical difficulties and delays, the band persevered at the national championship in Allentown, PA, earning themselves a resounding victory in the III A division. Their dedication, talent, and the incredible arrangement of “Ring of Fire”, the show that the band has been working to perfect since July, won them the title of National Champions. Band members, parents, and fans of the group all celebrated as the news of their win spread on social media. This is the group’s second national victory in the past four years. Despite having grueling daily practices and competitions that ate half the weekend, some Highlander Band members don’t look forward to the finish.

“For the remainder of the season, I’m excited to meet all the people that I’ll see during football games,” Garcia noted, “The most rewarding part of being a part of the band program is being a part of a second big family.” Polglaze, a class of 2023 trombonist, holds a similar sentiment — “The best part is the music, the people, and what you perform for. It’s something that gets you places, helps you see things, and you get to be a part of a wonderful massive program that creates something that’s great, not only for us but for the people who watch.”

It must be true that positive thoughts yield positive results, as the bright outlook of the band’s dedicated members truly led their season to a massively fruitful conclusion.