Shenandoah Valley Alumni Band brings graduates together

·4 min read

Sep. 10—SHENANDOAH — The Shenandoah Valley Alumni Band convened Friday for the first time in three years, proceeding down the town's main thoroughfares while spectators welcomed them home.

Composed of about 130 members this year, the band performed its signature parade in the borough and then went to their alma mater to perform the halftime show. Many Shenandoah residents ventured outside to watch the procession, especially on Main and Centre streets.

As per usual, the alumni band was composed of several distinct sections: cheerleaders, majorettes, band members, percussion, a color guard and an honor guard. The alumni were joined by members of the current Shenandoah Valley band and cheerleaders, with about 200 people making up the total group.

Following tradition, the parade stepped off at the J.W. Cooper Community Center — the former site of Shenandoah Valley High School — and made its way through Washington, Main and Centre streets to the football stadium, where the band performed at halftime of the Shenandoah Valley Blue Devils' game against the Minersville Area Battlin' Miners.

The event brought together a variety of Shenandoah Valley alumni, many of whom now live outside the region.

Paul Crane, Class of 1961, was among the oldest alumni at the event. A longtime alumni band participant, he said he couldn't pass up yet another opportunity to relive his high school years.

"It's an opportunity I call, 'Going back from the future and reliving this moment,' " said Crane, who now lives in Auburn.

Mike Mekailek, Class of 2003, traveled from where he now lives in Wilmington, Delaware, to play the trombone with the band. He has performed with the alumni band since he was in high school and always looks forward to the opportunity to participate.

Another band member, Ed Hayes, Class of 1974, who plays the clarinet, said he enjoys the band's repertoire. A Hazle Twp. resident, he is a member of the Shenandoah All-Star Polka Band and has been involved in various high school marching bands in the region.

"I love seeing all the people here," he said, "and seeing all the past classes get together."

The band started the parade with a performance of its alma mater, then played a cycle of three of its signature songs — "Across the Field," "On Wisconsin" and the Notre Dame Victory March — until it reached the football field.

At halftime, the band played a mix of old and modern selections: "Holiday" by Green Day; "The Horse," a 1968 instrumental by Cliff Nobles and Co.; "Bye Bye Bye" by NSYNC; and Basin Street Blues, a jazz standard.

Diane Paskey, a Class of 1979 majorette, said she likes connecting with all of her classmates at the parade.

"This is the same parade route we had to do in high school," she said, pointing to what's now the J.W. Cooper building. Paskey now resides in Camp Hill, and her children have also participated in the alumni band.

Fellow majorette Norma Barlow, Class of 1975, of Frackville, said the alumni band is still an enjoyable venture, but joked that "it's getting harder to do" as she ages.

"I hope someday that Shenandoah Valley will have new, younger majorettes," she said.

The Shenandoah Valley Alumni Band was originally established in 1999 by the Shenandoah Valley Class of 1975. The band convenes for its parade every three to five years on the night of a home football game, according to band coordinator Eric James, Class of 2010.

Before Friday's event, the last alumni band gathering was in 2019, when it performed at Shenandoah Valley's homecoming game against the Panther Valley Panthers.

During rehearsals this year, James said, members of the band made it a point to discuss why they enjoy coming back to participate. Whether it was performing with fellow band members, playing the band's repertoire or just being back in their hometown, the alumni assessed the "why" factor of what keeps them coming back.

For James, who now lives in Kutztown, the alumni band represents a unique and singular opportunity to relive his school days.

"It's Friday nights, small towns, everyone's back together," he said.

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