‘World class kids in a world class division’: Cesar E. Chavez percussion ensemble to compete in world competition for the first time in school’s history

April 10, 2019 /

The Cesar E. Chavez Indoor Percussion Ensemble headed to Dayton, Ohio Tuesday to compete in the Winter Guard International Championships in Percussion Scholastic World Division — the highest division in the world for high school ensembles.

The Delano group is the first ensemble to compete in the world competition in the school’s history and is the first in Kern County to compete in the competition since 2007.

“I would have never thought anything like this can happen,” said William Ablay, the drumline captain.

The group moved up to the World Class Division in the middle of this year’s season after it earned the highest score — 84.7 — of the entire circuit at the ensemble’s first WGI competition in Merced.

“Being in world division could be a once in a lifetime chance for the group, so I think it’s a great opportunity for growth,” said Sarah Mclaughlin, the mallet tech for the group. “The experience will only elevate the group’s capabilities and enhance their musical skills.”

Astonished by the unexpected offer, the group continued the season competing in the World Class Division alongside groups the students have looked up to for years.

However, being moved up mid-season was intimidating, considering the level of the music and visual design of other world class groups. But that didn’t stop the ensemble from giving it their all to stay in the competition.

The ensemble practiced 15 hours a week to prepare for the international competition and continued to stay determined for all upcoming competitions.

“From Senior A Division to World Class Division in only four years — it’s crazy to think that a small group like us from the valley can withstand groups that have more resources than we have,” said Albay.

The promotion for indoor percussion reflects upon the band’s earlier accomplishment at the Stockdale Spectacular. During the field show season, the ensemble earned the Grand Sweepstakes and multiple caption awards — awards that bands in higher divisions had earned.

Because of this, the program adopted a saying: “They are the resemblance of the mosquito that took out the big elephant.”

The 14-year-old program, established in 2005, has grown through hardships and accomplishments.

Led by Cesar E. Chavez High’s music director, Alex Gonzales, and his wife, Terry Gonzales, the indoor program started from scratch with one drum-line tech, Richard Pagalan.

During their first years of competing at the local indoor percussion circuit, PPAACC, the ensemble had its first big accomplishment in 2009 as the National A Division champions and was later bumped up to Open Class Division in 2010. Later that year, the Delano ensemble took home another win as Open Division Champions at PPAACC.

Years have passed and the program has remained successful. However, some years are more successful than others.

In 2016, the ensemble started the season in Senior A Division and was again bumped up a division to National A Division, where it won the championships. In the last two years, the ensemble competed in Open Division Class and once again took home first place, wiping out every group in the circuit.

Many supporters, such as district staff, peers and family members are in Dayton, Ohio witnessing the once in a lifetime experience.

Terry Gonzales said, “They truly are world class kids in a world class division.”

The ensemble competes Thursday morning.

Zhakeila Cabico

Zhakeila Cabico is a youth reporter from Delano for South Kern Sol.