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Twenty-two entries reach for the top honors at the District VII Marching Band Festival.

Kids from each school were primed for their best performance. Boosters tried to get the crowd fired up. Bloomingdale, one of the biggest schools, was looking for an edge with its size.

If it sounds like a high school sports event, think again. There was plenty of intensity and school pride on display when more than 2,200 students from 22 high schools descended on Bloomingdale High School Saturday for the countywide District VII Marching Band Festival.

For seven hours, the bands were evaluated in many categories: marching and maneuvering, general effect, two performances and percussion. Grades range from poor to superior and, this year, every school got a superior or excellent rating.

"It's challenging, but you want to try and get the crowd involved," said Lloyd Radder, Bloomingdale band booster president.

Some schools had themes for their performances - King High School's went with "This is My America" by playing War and Coming to America.

Newsome High showed off its marching and maneuvering abilities by jumping lively as they played. Bloomingdale High's theme, "Southern Style," was carried out with tunes that included The Devil Went Down to Georgia.

Then there's the attention that comes with sheer numbers. Lennard High brought a 38-member band, while Durant, Alonso, Gaither, Newsome and King had more than 130 each. And there was Bloomingdale High - and the sound intensity that comes with having 246 musicians.

"It isn't an unfair advantage, though," said Nicole Conte, director of the 78-member Leto band. "Quality is quality, regardless of size."

Ted Hope, the school district's supervisor of middle school and secondary music, concurred.

"Smaller bands like Chamberlain, Wharton, and Spoto did exceptionally well even though they were small," he said. "The beauty of the event is that small and large bands are on equal footing.

Of Spoto, Hope said, "I thought they were terrific. For a small, third-year school to perform so well musically was fantastic. I also enjoyed their drill and the entire show concept."

Behind every good band is a dedicated booster club. Parents volunteer time and effort to raise money for band festivals and other band events. Saturday was no exception. During warmups, parents shined shoes and adjusted uniforms as if each student was their own child.

"It's like my huge family," said Robert Gocinski, a Bloomingdale sophomore.

What do the students get from these assessments?

"The satisfaction of a job well done," said Radder, the Bloomingdale booster president, who believes band makes children more organized, better students.

Festival results

Superior: Spoto, Wharton, Hillsborough, Newsome, King, Bloomingdale, Chamberlain, Freedom, Blake, Durant, Gaither.

Excellent: East Bay, Tampa Bay Technical, Armwood, Brandon, Robinson, Lennard, Plant City, Leto, Jefferson, Riverview, Alonso.