Mustang Band Area-bound after Division I rating

Natalia band members are: Andrew Walsh, Garrett Henn, Naomi Garcia, Ashely Sutton, Isaiah Sanchez, Joel Mendez, Celeste Valenzuela, Meg Martinez (holding flowers), Gabi Santoya, Kaite Curiel, Karla Gonzalez, Hallie Garcia, Sophia Padilla, Samantha Lemus, Kendall Tanner, Brad Martin, Isabella Martinez, Grace Gorman, Fabian Ruiz, Genesis Perez, Reagan Juarez, Stephen Baird, Liberty Gilkey, Wyatt Owens, Steven Sanchez, DeMarea Esquibel, Briana Paredes, Deven Perez, Abigail Besa, Lauren Read, JT Constante, Amber Velez, Jayden Garcia, Alex Ramirez, Brianna Castro, Evelyn Gomez, Dezarae Headlee, Jeremy Zapata, Britney Castro, Sarah Howe, Jessica Aguilar, and Trinity Vera.

Natalia Mustang head Band Director Sergio Mendez and staff were all smiles when the announcement was made at Barry Field last Saturday at the Region 11 Marching Contest. The announcer released the news on the loud speaker, as cheers, tears and emotion ran high in the south end zone of the stadium.
For the fourth straight year, Natalia had received an overall Division I rating. For the second time in four years and just the second time in school history, the band had received straight 1s, punching their ticket for the Area E Marching contest coming up on October 28th in Cuero.
“When I introduced the Show ‘Paranormal’ to our band this past summer, I explained to them the intensity of the show and how tough it was going to be,” Mendez said. “I told the band that when it was all said and done, we would either be a very impressive band at Region contest, or very average.”
The Natalia Mustang Band entered Barry Field in Hondo last Saturday showcasing a school record 87 members last Saturday afternoon. They competed against 3A Cotulla, Dilley and Jourdanton at the contest.
Their show Paranormal features selections: “Unexplained Noises,” “Séance,” and “Get Out” by Gary Gilroy.
“I really like the intensity of the show and how unpredictable the show is,” Mendez said. “There are spots to where it is quiet, and then the band just opens up,” Mendez said.
Mendez, his staff and the large number of Natalia supporters were not the only ones in the stadium who loved the show. Judges at the contest gave glowing reviews, making comments such as, “It had the ‘Wow’ factor.” A second judge who had seen the band just two weeks prior made the following comment: “This was not the same band we saw two weeks ago. They did a phenomenal job.”
How the program was built
Mendez came to Natalia I.S.D. from Dilley, where he had served in a program that at the time was one of the best in the region year in and year out. Mendez, a Pearsall native, was a part of award-winning bands in Frio County before attending Texas Tech University, where he was a member of the Goin Band from Raider Land as well.
“I can remember driving home and passing the Natalia sign through my career on IH-35,” Mendez said. “Watching the band through the years while teaching in Dilley, I knew there was potential. I had told my wife every time I passed Natalia, that someday I would do something special in that town. I just knew it was possible.”
Doing something special in Natalia did not come easy, as it took plenty of dedication from not only the staff, but the students, parents and the community.
When Mendez arrived, in year one he had 23 students he took to war at the Region 11 contest in Hondo. Mendez was pleased when the band received a Division II rating, missing out on a trip to the Area Contest.
The band began to grow, as buy-in began to take place within the program. Year two saw approximately 43 take the field where Natalia received a Division I for the first time in school history during a non-advancing contest.
In year three, Natalia took 55 students to battle at the Region 11 contest and for the first time in school history, received straight Division I ratings and qualified for their first ever Area E contest.
The band competed in Fredericksburg that year, and although they did not qualify for the finals of the contest, received a ton of experience and had the taste of true success.
Last season, the tradition continued as they received an overall Division I rating as 65+ students took the field which led up to the 2017-2018 season.
Natalia Assistant Band Director John DeLeon remembers very vividly the conversation that took place following the contest in Fredericksburg two years ago.
“The message was pretty clear to our students,” DeLeon said. “It was an awesome opportunity to march at Area, but our goal for the future was to make the finals at bare minimum.”
In just over a week, that opportunity will come as the Natalia Mustang Marching Band will compete in the Area contest.
One area that has allowed the high school band to succeed so much has been the foundation at the junior high level. Currently, the 6th grade band has 52 students enrolled, the 7th grade has 51, and there are 27 8th graders enrolled.
Last year, the 7th Grade Band received a Sweepstakes Award which set the tone for overall success at the junior high level which has continued momentum for the 2017-2018 school year.
Area E Stage Set
The Mustang Band was hard at work on press day in the dew-stricken grass at the practice field when I stopped by to talk with Mendez for this article. There was a sense of pride, energy, excitement and a ton of focus amongst the students and staff.
“One of the toughest judges we had this season had been pretty tough on us during our first few contests,” DeLeon said. “During the Hondo contest, he was silent almost the entire show when we got his taped comments. That is a good thing, so we know we are heading in the right direction.”
Although fans see the band stretch from the 25 yard line to the opposite 25 yard line, there are numerous things that have come with the growth.
The Natalia I.S.D. Board of Trustees has had the honor of having a glowing problem which has been addressed each season. The Band Program needed a much longer trailer which was bought two seasons ago. Due to the increase in numbers, new uniforms were added, as well as over $150,000 in instruments over the last three seasons.
Now, the glowing problem is one that will hopefully be addressed with a possible November 2018 bond. If anyone questions if there are needs, walk inside the Natalia Band Hall during any given day. Instruments are stacked 2-3 high along every wall, and chairs are practically on top of each other to fit the students inside the hall.
“It is a great problem to have,” Mendez said. “I am so happy for our band, our directors and for this community that has been so supportive. We aren’t done yet, folks.
“Aside from my directors, students, parents and admin, I can’t thank our maintenance department enough,” Mendez continued. “They always make sure we have what is needed when it comes to our fields.”
Mendez is assisted by DeLeon, who enters his fourth season with the band; Mr. Jaime Escobar, who enters his fourth season with the program; and Ms. Vanessa Delgado who enters her second.
Drum Majors for the 2017-2018 Band include Miss Abigail Besa and Miss Grace Gorman. Color Guard Captains are Miss Lauren Read and Miss Trinity Vera.
This coming Sunday, an announcement will be made which will include the number of bands which will advance to the Area E contest as well as time slots.
Region 11 was the first to compete last week. Advancing with Natalia were Jourdanton and Cotulla as Dilley was left out of the mix. The remainder of the bands in the Area will compete this coming Saturday. Out of the bands that compete, only those who receive a Division I rating will advance to Cuero. Two seasons ago, approximately 20 bands made the cut and advanced to Area.
The Mighty Mustang Band will continue to fine tune a few areas as they prepare to try and make history.
“We want to advance to the finals and see where it might take us,” Mendez said. “Our kids deserve nothing less.”
Natalia I.S.D. is planning to provide a possible bus to take students and community members to Cuero on October 28th. Keep an eye out for this announcement on social media.
The Devine News will also have a follow-up article next week that will include performance times and schedules for Natalia and other area bands.
By Eric Smith
Staff Writer