By JESSICA RHODES
For The Recorder
Marching Rams reunion shows at the Amsterdam High School homecoming football game are nothing new -- they've have been going on since the late 1990s.
But this year's participation in the Oct. 19 halftime show is set to blow past years out of the water, according to Assistant Band Director Ann Bottisti.
"It seems to have blown up, which is great," said Bottisti, who was a Marching Ram and drum major herself at Amsterdam High School. "It shows what a big deal it is, how special it is to people in the community. And I know personally my best memories of high school are in the band. So I know that's the feeling that a lot of people have coming back; it was their family when they were in high school."
With 143 current students, the 160-plus alumni who have RSVPed to the reunion show will make a group of more than 300 on the field next Saturday afternoon; including more than 80 alumni majorettes and eight drum majors. Marching Rams from as far away as Texas and Florida and as far back as the graduating class of 1957 will be participating; including a large representation of majorettes from the class of 1965. And RSVPs are still being accepted.
The show will blend traditional music and elements like the kickline, which happens to be celebrating its 65th anniversary this year, with more contemporary music choices and inclusions such as the drumline. Bottisti and Band Director Michael Perry want to be sure they give the alumni the experience they remember, while letting the current group show off their skills in their own way.
"I guess being an (alumnus) myself I think I'm taking everything really seriously because I understand the way it feels, I know how special it is to them," said Bottisti.
Bottisti and other alumni aren't sure why this year's show is surrounded by so much excitement, but they believe it may be a combination of good timing and the power of social networking.
But whatever the reason for this years' surge, Bottisti says the reasons for wanting to come back are obvious:
"We always want that one last opportunity to get on the field, the way it feels to be in front of an audience under the lights on the football field, to hear the cadence, to be part of the music."
And the alumni agree.
"It's really exciting because I get to come back to do what I love to do, which is perform music playing with an amazing band," said Devin Martell, a snare drum player, drum line section leader and wind ensemble representative who just graduated from AHS last year.
"It's something that never leaves you; the excitement of being a Marching Ram," agreed Theresa Jordan, a former piccolo player who graduated in 1983 and made her way back to Amsterdam as the middle-school band director. Four years ago, Jordan was able to reignite the middle-school marching band of years past, which now feeds into the Marching Rams.
In addition to the excitement of getting out on the field one more time, many alumni participating in the show feel that they should give back to the organization for helping them to develop life skills and form friendships that withstood the years.
"I was one of those fortunate people who was hired right out of college and back into my hometown," said Jordan. "And I really wanted to be back in my hometown and be a part of everything that made me who I was."
"It definitely made me more confident in my abilities," said Ashley McNally, a 2000 graduate who was a clarinetist and drum major. "It made me feel like I could stand up in front of a group and be able to command their attention and their respect. I think it's really important to give back to the organization that I feel has impacted me growing up. Anything I can do to help shed positive light on it and to build up the program to help it continue into the future, I'm more than happy to do."
McNally carried the leadership and public speaking skills she learned with the Marching Rams on to her job as a teacher at Henry Johnson charter school in Albany, she said.
Martell remembers a similar coming-of-age in the band.
"I was always this shy person who didn't want to be in charge of anything," he said. "And now after being section leader it's definitely taught me that I do have the ability to be a leader."
"I think it's character building and I think [it teaches] responsibility," agreed Pete Rose, a 2001 graduate who was a drum major and baritone player, and now works as a funeral director in Canajoharie. "I think it instills a sense of community, a sense of family. You will never find another program like this that exists anywhere in the world."
Rose is married to a Marching Ram alumnus, the former Mary Briggs, and still maintains close friendships with other alumni in the area.
But it is not just the alumni that realize the value of the Marching Rams; current students seem hyper-aware of the value of the organization and the impact it has had on their lives so far.
Haley Cook, a current senior at AHS and majorette team captain, is working hard this week to choreograph a dance routine for more than 100 individuals, but she remains positive in the face of her responsibility.
"Being captain is definitely going to impact the rest of my life. From leadership to public speaking to trying to get my point across without having somebody take it personally; I'm learning all those things as I'm going along," said Cook.
"The thing I'll miss most is just performing. I love to dance in front of everybody at a half-time show, that's the best feeling in the world. You've worked so hard to have everything perfect for Friday night and then there it is...and all your hard work is paying off. It is literally the best thing that I could have possibly done in high school."
"You can look anywhere, anywhere in the world, and you can find any organization, any group of people, and no matter what I don't think anything beats the Marching Rams," said Cody Burda, a current senior drum major. "I don't think you can find a group anywhere that can do what we do and that can function as such a strong family."
And this sense of family is the running theme in many alumni and current students' reflections about the upcoming reunion, in terms of bonds within the group and with the community at large.
"Many communities, the high school marching band is just the high school marching band," said Jordan. "In our community it really is an important part of our school."
"Our old band director...said we were the 12th man on the team, and that really showed," said Martell.
Current student Burda explained that the community makes the Marching Rams what it is by being supportive and getting excited at performances.
"I think that we kind of work together with the community in a way and we draw each other in," said Burda. "And I think that in a bigger scheme we're all kind of one big family as a community."
And as far as whether he will come back for an alumni show once he has graduated, Burda is definitive:
"Oh my god, I'll be the first one on the list."
Please email Band Director Mike Perry at email@example.com to RSVP to the Oct. 19 Marching Rams reunion show: RSVPs will be accepted until the day before the event.