SAN ANTONIO - For the third year in a row, the U.S. Army All-American Bowl will not only provide an opportunity for the nation's top high school football players to showcase their skills, it will also be a chance for gifted marching band members from across the country to strut their stuff.
"Three years ago SportsLink, the National Association for Music Education (MENC) and the Army got together and decided they wanted to try to mirror what we do at halftime with what we do on the field during the game with the football players," said Brian Prato, who has been the Director of Operations for the U.S. Army All-American Marching Band since its creation.
"We select approximately 100 of the nation's best marching band musicians, do a nationwide selection tour at everybody's school to recognize them as being an All-American and then bring them down to San Antonio all expenses paid for bowl week," he added.
The selection process is a lengthy one. The MENC asks high school band directors for nominations and then sends out audition packets. The applicants first submit information online and then are asked to send in three different videos, which are evaluated by the U.S. Army All-American Marching Band instructional staff and band director.
"One of the videos is a 'tell us about yourself' video. Another video is them marching and playing a specific piece that MENC sends them and then the third video is them kind of showing off and doing whatever they want to impress the instructors," Prato said. "And then the final selections are made.
"We truly take the best kids overall. To put it in football terms, it is not just the kid that can rush for 1,000 yards, it is the kid that can excel across the board. … 3.74 is the overall GPA for the members of our band this year. These are very bright kids that do a lot of activities in their community."
When this year's U.S. Army All-American Marching Band members arrive in San Antonio on Jan. 5, they will have already memorized the music that they will play during the five and a half minute halftime show. But it is still a difficult process to get them ready with just 22 hours of rehearsal time.
"Our show is shorter than a normal high school marching band show because of time constraints, but the show is about 45 pages of drill - which is a lot," Prato explained. "A lot of high school bands don't even march that many drill pages in a seven minute show. So our kids are really moving."
This year's halftime show will have a western theme. It will not be televised during NBC's broadcast of the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, but the Alamo Bowl's large stage makes it a special experience.
"A few of our kids have performed in big stadiums before but a majority of them haven't," Prato said. "On Wednesday when we have our four-hour rehearsal block in the dome, it is always fun to watch their faces when they walk through the tunnel and finally come out on the field for the first time."
The marching band's halftime show can be viewed live online on Jan. 9 at allamericangames.tv.