Sports writers like nothing better than a great headline. At my first job in professional journalism, as a sports writer at the Binghamton Evening Press in upstate New York, I still recall the headline over an article written by my colleague, Russ Worman. Worman had profiled a family in which each of the boys was an accomplished schoolboy wrestler and the father, as I recall, was a wrestling coach, as well.
Worman took an offbeat approach by focusing not on the boys in the family, but rather the mother, who held all the busy grapplers (pardon the lingo) together. She was, the headline proclaimed, “The Chief Cook and Battle Watcher.”
I no longer follow high school sports too closely, but I still skim the headlines. The schoolboys (we used that term in 1965 to differentiate high school teams — all male — from college teams) now have to compete with women’s sports for space in the community newspapers. Athletes don’t always get as much publicity as they (and more often their parents) would want.
But they sure get a lot more ink than a Princeton High team I have been following for the last four or five years. My team won the state championship, as well as a national competition. Half a dozen players on the team took first place honors at their positions. A bunch of the kids have been recruited by schools offering scholarships based on their performances.
Some of the kids also participate on a travel team that this summer will visit Italy and Switzerland.
I follow the kids to a lot of the competitions, but I have never seen a journalist from any of the community papers there. When the kids won the state championship this spring, one of the town papers gave them three or four inches of space; another, I vaguely recall, ran a celebratory photograph (provided by a parent) with a caption.
That little publicity, much appreciated, is about as much as you can expect for the high school band in the community newspapers. That’s right, the band is what I have been following (as a band parent, of course) and if I were covering that activity I would have had one good story to report.
It doesn’t take long to see the parallel between the band and, say, the football team: A varsity and a junior varsity; long practices after school; individual standouts who aren’t worth a damn if the rest of the players around them don’t perform equally well.
Winning the state championship was a highlight for the Princeton Studio Band this year, but an even more noteworthy performance (and a better story if a journalist had been covering the event) came at the Berklee College of Music High School Jazz Festival in Boston. Princeton High begins every year with the goal of winning its division at the prestigious Berklee competition. This year the band also had its sights on a second title, for jazz combo.
The combo competition came first, and the Princeton combo played before an SRO crowd jammed into a meeting room at the Prudential Center. As he introduced the ensemble Princeton band director Joe Bongiovi made the point that the students were in charge of the entire performance; he would not conduct the group.
Judging by audience reaction, the Princeton kids played flawlessly. Solos were handed off gracefully from one player to the next (and two of the players received first place soloist awards from the judges at the ceremony that evening). But as the set concluded, and the audience burst into applause, some frantic looks were exchanged by the Princeton players. The competition was limited to 18 minutes, and the self-directed Princeton combo had played a few precious seconds too long.
Rumors flew over the next hour or two. Finally, as the entire band was assembling for the major competition of the day, the official verdict was handed down: Princeton was disqualified — and at least a few of the band members were also disconsolate.
Bongiovi, as well as some of the parents, worried that the setback from the morning would adversely affect the performance in the afternoon. But, like a relief pitcher who shakes off the disappointment of a blown save, the Studio Band came through with a spot-on — and winning — performance.
And not without a little pressure. One hallmark of the jazz band is that the kids perform solos, with no music to rely on and with the added challenge of improvisation — all with the time limit looming. Princeton’s first song was the energetic “Heat of the Day,” with solos from my son Frank, a senior, freshman drummer Katherine Gerberich, and Ryan Meier on guitar.
Even as the SRO audience was cheering for “Heat of the Day,” Marc Stern had taken his place in front of the band, tenor sax in hand, and launched into his four or five-minute solo on “Body and Soul,” for which he would later receive the top soloist award.
Then the finale: “Crusin’ for a Bluesin’ ” — featuring sophomore Aditya Raguram on piano; Dan Sturm and my son on tenor and bass trombone, respectively; senior Alex Anderson on drums; and Derek Colaizzo on alto sax.
Colaizzo. That name rings a bell. Throughout the year the sportswriters came closer than they knew to the Studio Band saga. If you follow high school sports you might recognize the name Derek Colaizzo, a star swimmer on the Princeton High team who recorded the fastest time in the state in the 50 meter freestyle. Colaizzo’s name and photograph appeared often in the weekly and daily sports pages. What they all missed was that Colaizzo accomplished an amazing extracurricular “double.” He also played alto sax in the Studio Band in a high school career that included pre-dawn workouts, afternoon practices, late night band rehearsals, and wee hours with homework.
Lest you think the double stardom hampered Colaizzo’s academic record, think again: He has been accepted at Princeton University, where he plans to continue both his swimming and his music. If I were writing a headline for this feature, I would borrow a line from the old Paul Harvey radio show. “Star Swimmer Derek Colaizzo: Now . . . the Rest of the Story.”
The Princeton High School Studio Band will present its year-end concert Saturday, June 2, at 8 p.m. at the high school Performing Arts Center. www.princetonjazz.org.