Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

When the Washington State marching band withdrew from the Sun Bowl, El Dorado High, El Paso, seized a golden opportunity

EL PASO, Texas – Carl Ortega stands on a short ladder in the front of the tape room at El Dorado High. His busy hands pause for a moment and the music stops before Ortega gives his next cue and points his right index finger at the percussion section. A snare drum clicks four times, and an ensemble of flutes, clarinets and brass instruments begins to pump a familiar song through the large band room.

Close your eyes and think it was Martin Stadium on a Saturday afternoon in September.

Washington State and Central Michigan soccer teams prepare for each other only four days in advance, but when it comes to spontaneous planning, it’s possible no one in El Paso is working on a tighter schedule than El Dorado’s band.

Everything unfolded quickly.

When the Washington State Marching Band canceled flights to El Paso amid unsure whether the Sun Bowl would go as planned after Miami was out of action due to COVID-19 issues, Bowl officials initially struggled to find a replacement .

Ortega, El Dorado’s sophomore band director, was visiting their in-laws in Farmington, New Mexico when he received a call from Armando Martinez, fine arts director for the Socorro Independent School District, indicating El Dorado’s interest in performing at the Sun Bowl as a “deputy” band. Martinez was willing to contact any six high school band directors in the district if necessary, but the search ended on a single call to Ortega.

While El Dorado students were on vacation through Wednesday, some band members put their family plans on while others returned to El Paso from various parts of the region and state for a tantalizing opportunity to play in a nationally televised bowl game, didn’t want to miss it.

“I had to start texting all the kids, speaking to all the directors to see if we could bring something together, and all the kids were super excited and we could find out,” said Ortega, who sent a group message about the apt named “BAND” phone application. “At first I thought, ‘I need to know as soon as possible if you can do this.’ I told them what it was and they said, ‘Really?’ and they were all excited. “

The band at El Dorado were an ideal match for a number of reasons including the color scheme of their uniforms, which are black with shades of white, red, and yellow.

Danny Vega, the district’s music host, pointed out that “those colors weren’t purple.”

The band from El Dorado regrouped on Thursday for a single rehearsal less than 20 hours before kick-off on Friday at 9 a.m. Ortega didn’t get grades for the WSU battle song until Tuesday night, and the high school band made a spontaneous decision to add extra flair to their Sun Bowl act by learning the subject of “jaws,” which became another game day ritual has become in Pullmann.

Some students had already rehearsed the grades, others did test runs with the material at home. But they arrived at El Dorado Thursday with instructions to “prepare to stay a while and bring some snacks,” said Alexa Ortiz, a junior bass clarinetist.

“We developed and worked on a program and prepared these students to be adaptable and play in any situation, so we felt confident,” said assistant band director Cesar Hinojos. “We knew we could do it. We were a little nervous because we knew it was college material and we want to honor the material at the highest level, and I think that’s the greatest feeling we’ve had. But no, I think these children are prepared. “

Hinojos added: “We have had quite a few students who said ‘Go Cougs’. Many of these students bought their way and wanted to know what it feels like to be in this atmosphere. “

An atmosphere that the students of El Dorado will experience for the first time late on Friday morning, but which Ortega is already familiar with. He was assistant band director at Horizon High School in El Paso five years ago when Stanford’s marching band was suspended for violating the school’s code of conduct.

Horizon was selected as the “stand-in” band, although situations differ: students were notified two weeks before the Sun Bowl, not two days.

“Well, the time constraint is the hardest part, but this is a college-level battle song,” he said. “So it’s a little more difficult than we’re used to, but the kids like the challenge.”

Brandon Smithson, a senior clarinetist who volunteers at the Sun Bowl, has added to the challenge El Dorados band eagerly accepted this week.

“Well, you learn your individual part (alone), but that’s not enough,” he said. “Because we all have our own versions, and that comes about when you practice alone or just watch it, but when we actually get together, everyone realizes that I should be quieter because that’s a more important voice.”

Smithson said a friend recently joked, “It feels like we’re cheating” on El Dorado’s battle song, but pointed out that the Sun Bowl will be the icing on the cake for the seniors of the band who thought they were would have already played a soccer game on their last appearance.

“It’s pretty cool. I told someone that this was the last football game,” said Smithson. “It used to be sentimental, but now it’s like, oh, that’s a good goodbye.”

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