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Marching bands strut their stuff at competition

High school students from around Eastern Washington had good reason to toot their horns Saturday.

After months of painstaking preparation, the students converged at Joe Albi Stadium to compete in the 33rd annual Sounds of Thunder Pacific Northwest Marching Band Championships.

Before hitting the field, the students, eager to perform and a bit nervous, warmed up their instruments and stretched their limbs.

“It’s a really athletic activity,” said Mike Suhling, director of the Cheney High School marching band. “It’s definitely a lot of work.”

Eight judges score the students based on the music, their marching and the overall effect of the performance. The students strive for perfection in the highly competitive contest.

Their footwork must be accurate and properly timed as they move about the field, their movements crisp and calculated, the lines of their formations straight, and each person in his or her place, all while playing their instruments and keeping a beat.

Some schools used props, and the pageantry often included a color guard, in which flags visually represent the music.

The 10 competing high schools each played an eight- to 11-minute show. Most of the students started practicing in mid-August, months before the competition. Before school starts, many put in grueling 10-hour days, six days a week.

“They practice, practice, practice,” said show director Rich Harvey. “It takes a lot of stamina and absolute discipline.”

For the competitors, it’s more than just a chance to show off their hard work.

“They make friends,” Harvey said. “It’s about competition. It’s about having fun.”