HIGHTSTOWN: HHS band marches to state title

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The Hightstown High School marching band won its first state title with the help of some non-traditional props

By Mike Morsch, Executive editor
Marching band color guards traditionally use flags, sabers and rifles in their shows. But Hightstown High School’s marching band decided to ignore the traditional props this year and instead went with pink yoga balls, Hula Hoops, umbrellas and bicycles.
Pink yoga balls? Bicycles?
Yep. And all the funky ideas did was help earn the band its undefeated season and first-ever state title.
“We thought about what crazy things we could use and do on the field that haven’t been done before,” said Justin Halat, a music teacher in the school district who is in his fifth year as band director at Hightstown High School.
But it wasn’t just the outside-the-box thinking that earned the band the New Jersey State Championship on Oct. 30. It’s Mr. Halat’s first state title as a director as well and he has had a sense from the beginning of the school year that this band might be something special.
“We learn the show in August, but honestly it takes the entire season to really perfect it. It’s about an eight-and-a-half-minute show, so we’re basically trying to perfect that. Some kids are marching for the first time, some of them have marched for four years. Unlike any sports team, we can’t bench anybody,” said Mr. Halat.
“We’ve been working really hard. When we first started putting the show together, my initial thought was, ‘We’re gonna win this year.’ We had a pretty solid idea and we have some really strong kids this year. We kind of felt that if it was going to be any year, this would be the year,” he said.
The show is called “Pure Imagination” and features a song by the same name from the Willy Wonka movie and 70 team members from ninth through 12th grade.
To win the state title, the show was judged on six separate categories: individual music, ensemble music, visual performance, overall effects, color guard and percussion.
Despite the visual appeal of the pink yoga balls and the Hula Hoops, Mr. Halat said that the use of bicycles in the show has actually what’s helped set the band apart this year.
“Most judges have been saying all season that it was a first for them that we’re actually using bicycles on the field,” he said. “Everywhere we have gone, except for one show, it has been a turf field. So that’s been very helpful.”
The band will put its undefeated record on the line this weekend when it travels to Allentown, Pennsylvania, Nov. 5 for the USbands National Championship for group 3A. There will be 26 bands competing.
“We just received word that we will be going on last, which helps our chances going on toward the end of the show,” said Mr. Halat. “ I think we have a very good shot at winning. It’s going to depend on the judging panel and how well we perform on Saturday.” 