Western Dubuque marching band members performed during the Alamo Bowl halftime show, in San Antonio. WD performers included: front from left, Kaylee Brown, Jenna Deutmeyer, Charlotte Jones, Mariah Schmitt, Olivia Thul, Hayleigh Ries, Hope Thurm, Russell Miller and Kristine Hellmann; second row, Michaela Silich, Preston Britton, Kendra Calonder, Natalie Coyle, Derek Phillips, Seth Nerney, Nate Pline and Emily Quiniones; third row, Cecelia Smith, Alivia Shepherd, Jenna Curtis, Samantha Szalkowski, Amber Fenton, Ally Brant, Olivia Lyons, Maddie Klein, Anna Johll, Addison Stoerp, Josie Goebel and Lilli Green; fourth row, Aubree Ronek, Cassie Szalkowski, Brooklyn Neyen, Morgan Brimeyer, Preston Hefel, Maddie Gilles, Darcy Brant, Collin Pollock, Nathan Clemen, Aiden Kluesner, Abigail Rempe, Connor Then-Birch, Cayden Then, Grant Demmer, Karas Weidenbacher, Grant Summers and Maggie Bockenstedt.

Western Dubuque’s Bobcat Marching Band performed at the 2021 Alamo Bowl, in San Antonio, Texas, Dec. 29. The annual bowl game has been played at the 64,000 seat Alamodome since 1993, with this year’s contest featuring Oregon and Oklahoma.

Western Dubuque was part of a halftime performance featuring high school bands from around the country.

“We applied to the bowl game, sent in some photos and videos and were accepted. We actually were supposed to go last year, but COVID shut that down, so we were postponed a year,” said Western Dubuque Band Director Michael Omarzu. “We performed with the other bands at halftime. We memorized the music, the color guard routine and performed in front of 60,000 people.

“We usually go to a bowl game every two years. Our last trip was to the Holiday Bowl in San Diego three years ago.”

Such a trip doesn’t happen overnight.

“Planning far in advance gives students the opportunity to raise money,” said Omarzu. “We have a lot of fundraising opportunities for the students. We have a scrip program and do a couple of fundraisers. Some families choose to just fund it themselves.”

Moving a marching band 1,200 miles down Interstate 35 is no easy task.

“We had 46 students and six chaperones on the trip, so there are a lot of logistics involved,” Omarzu said. “We have a lot of equipment to pack up and carry. We stuff the bus to the brim. I just discovered today I think we lost our tool chest. I think we left it on the bus, so keeping track of everything is a challenge.”

Junior trumpet player Hayleigh Ries enjoyed the opportunity to perform with musicians from around the country.

“Things went pretty smoothly. It was difficult at first trying to get used to how other people conducted and directed,” Ries said. “Once we got used to playing with other people, it was a lot of fun. There were schools from Nebraska, Ohio, Colorado and all over the place.”

The Bobcats were part of an audience participation show, and the crowd joined in as the on-field musicians performed some familiar songs.

“The show was called ‘You’re a Rock Star’ and the audience was encouraged to sing along. It was a medley of rock and pop tunes — ‘YMCA,’ ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’ and ‘Sweet Caroline,’” explained Omarzu. “Obviously the performance in front of a big crowd was exciting. We had to play along with a track, which was hard. The track started in the wrong spot, but all the kids adapted well and the audience never knew.”

This was the second bowl game on the tenor saxophone for senior Seth Nerney.

“It was really cool performing. I did the same thing when we were out at the Holiday Bowl in California,” Nerney said. “This year was better for me. Since I had already done it once I wasn’t as nervous.”

The trip wasn’t all business for the marching Bobcats. A few tourist activities provided the students with memories that will last a lifetime.

“We got on the USS Lexington — a World War II era aircraft carrier — and the kids swam in the ocean,” said Omarzu. “We went to the Alamo and the River Walk along with Six Flags and SeaWorld.”

It was also a cultural learning experience for the band.

“It was a lot of fun to meet people from different schools and see how they do things differently. Obviously, it was a little stressful being in front of so many people, but it was really cool to represent your area and your state,” Ries said. “The best part of the trip was meeting all of the different people. We all learned how to line dance as a group and the fellowship was a lot of fun.”

And then there was the game itself. Oklahoma outscored Oregon 47-32 in one of the more entertaining contests of the bowl season.

“Honestly, the best part of the trip for me was watching the game,” said Nerney.