Not all that long ago, I was a band geek.
While my lovely girlfriend would still call me a geek, I am sadly no longer one of the band variety. After I graduated high school and came to Murray, I decided it was time to give some other activities a try. Thus, my band days came to an end.
I was all in during my four years of high school. Concert band, jazz band, all-county band, section leader, I was about as committed as anyone. The only one that truly mattered to me, however, was marching band.
All of my life, I have been an obsessive sports addict. That addiction, however, has not stemmed from first-hand experience playing on teams. God blessed me with a ton of things, but Isaiah Canaan’s smooth jumper or Casey Brockman’s rocket of an arm weren’t exactly gifts he chose to give me.
Since I didn’t have talent or ability to play sports, I stuck to watching from my couch or in the stands. Don’t get me wrong, watching sports is fun-I do it way too much-but it’s just not the same as experiencing the feeling of competition with a team of people with whom you’re close.
That’s exactly why marching band appealed to me.
It was appealing because it gave me a sense of competition and a sense of being on a team. It gave me something for which I could strive. My band, Ravenwood High School, was competing for our own national championship, which was something I had always watched other athletes do, but had never gotten to experience first hand.
Each year from July to November, 130 of my closest friends and I gave up our social lives and sometimes our school work to pursue what our band director constantly referred to as “excellence.”
He would always remind us it was never about winning contests. He told us to pursue excellence and let the contests and trophies fall where they may. I never bought in to that.
We had our very own standings, scores and trophies, and in my own strange little world, I finally had something in common with the athletes I grew up idolizing. To me, it was about winning.
Throughout my time in the marching band, we steadily improved. My freshman year we finished near last at every competition, and by the time I was a senior we were regularly finishing at or near the top and traveling to larger competitions all over the eastern United States.
It all culminated my senior year when we traveled to the national championship in Indianapolis, Ind., for the first time in my high school’s history. My last competition in marching band would be for the national championship, just the way I had dreamt when watching those cheesy sports movies where that same exact scenario always seems to play out in the end. I realize you’re probably making fun of me because I am a loser who thought playing the trombone made me in some twisted way, equal to Rocky.
We didn’t get a storybook ending. My other senior friends and I didn’t go out on top like places short of a spot in the semi-finals-the top 30 bands in the nation.
I was crushed. That was not the way it was supposed to end. That’s not how “Miracle” or “Hoosiers” or “Rocky” or any other good sports movie ever ended.
That night when we got back to the middle school where we were staying, our band director told us he was proud of us. He said we achieved this “excellence,” he always seemed to be bringing up.
I wanted to punch him. I didn’t want to achieve excellence, I wanted to win.
Looking back, I finally understand what he meant. It’s a valuable life lesson and it applies not only to athletes (or freaks who think running around in a funny outfit with a feather on their head makes them Derek Jeter).
With my trombone-toting days behind me, it’s not the contests we won or lost that stick out in my memory. It’s the friends I made doing it. Even though they’re scattered all over the country now, the people I am closest to are those who I spent those four years with. At the time, winning was the most important thing to me, but now I wouldn’t trade a single one of those friendships for any number of national championships.
Life doesn’t have to be about winning. It also doesn’t have to be about losing. It should be about giving everything your all and being proud of the results.
It should be about getting up after you are knocked down. Most importantly, as my band director so obnoxiously said all those times, it should be about striving for and achieving excellence.