Buchanan band member marches over his disability

The Fresno BeeNovember 23, 2013 

David Alvarado, left, with his mother Jayne Ramirez and sister Zoe Ramirez at the Western Band Association championships at Buchanan High School in Clovis on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013.

CARMEN GEORGE — Fresno Bee

Members of the Buchanan High School marching band were told at one practice they could dress up as a "champion."

Many sported super hero costumes. David Alvarado came in his marching band uniform.

At this weekend's Western Band Association championships at Buchanan in Clovis, the 16-year-old's enthusiasm and talent for band were apparent as he played his trombone and moved easily through an elaborately choreographed routine.

What was not obvious is that David is legally blind.

Diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease at age 8, he could be totally blind in a matter of years, said some of his teachers, who help him with things like reading Braille and coordination.

Imagine looking through the tube of a paper towel roll -- with cellophane wrapped at the end -- to get an idea of what he sees now.

But David hasn't let his visual limitations stand in his way.

"People that don't know anything about blind people make a lot of assumptions, a lot of negative assumptions, and I think he's definitely proven them wrong in a lot of areas," said Sara Barlow, a teacher for the visually-impaired who's worked with David since elementary school. "Sometimes they just need to be given the opportunity to try something."

David's opportunity came as a freshman in high school, when he signed up for what he thought was just "band."

On the first day of class, he quickly discovered it was actually marching band. He was ecstatic.

"I was like, 'This is the coolest thing in the world!' " he said. "I was jumping up and down. I was just the happiest man on earth ... It just kept getting better and better."

He said the band is "one big family." The feeling of marching side-by-side with "friends and family" as people watch is one of his favorite experiences.

"For most people who are like me, who do get to do marching band, they get put in the pit," he said. "They are people who stand on the front sideline playing the bell instruments. They just put them in there because they don't think they will be able to march, and Mr. Orchard, our band director, gave me the chance."

Band director Jason Orchard, who oversees about 130 marching band and color guard members, said David is a very "down-to-earth kid" and a model student.

"No one in the stands would ever know he's visually-impaired," he said.

Friend and fellow trombone player Luke Robinson, 18, described David this way: "There's no such thing as something stopping you -- David's a good example of that."

For David, a sense of humor and having fun have been a big part of overcoming obstacles.

Orchard talked about David's "outlandish" outfits, randomly coming to school wearing tuxedos and donning a big "Elvis" hairdo.

"He always looks like some character from a movie in the '70s -- just decked out," Orchard said. "He's hilarious."

David was drawn to playing the trombone because of the possibility to try "tricks" with the instrument's slide -- like the "race car" and "the lawn mower."

He hopes to keep marching in college.

"The feeling you get after each performance -- you just get this feeling like you've accomplished something," he said. "It's like the greatest thing in the world just happened, right before your eyes."

How they did

Western Band Association 4 5A Class championship scores:

1. El Diamante Marching Miners, Visalia: 88.70

2. Clovis High: 84.95

3. Oak Grove High School Marching Band & Guard, San Jose: 84.25

4. Granite Bay Emerald

Brigade: 84.05

5. Westlake Regiment, Westlake Village: 83.00

6. Santa Teresa, San Jose: 82.65

7. Lemoore High: 78.45

8. Basha High, Chandler, Ariz.: 78.35

9. Buchanan High Band & Colorguard: 77.90

10. Leigh High, San Jose: 77.10

11. Los Gatos High Wildcat Marching Band & Guard: 74.60

12. Fremont Firebird Marching Band: 71.50

13. Tulare Union Redskin Band & Colorguard: 71.10

14. Eastside High, Lancaster: 70.90

15. Tulare Western: 69.80

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6386, cgeorge@fresnobee.com or @CarmenGeorge on Twitter.

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