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School band director and bus driver die in crash, leaving Christmas event in doubt. Bands from 33 schools performed in their honor.

Nearly 1,400 high school band students performed in a Texas-size display of support

The Christmas parade in Andrews, Tex., on Dec. 3, when 1,400 students from other schools showed up in honor of band director Darin Johns and bus driver Marc Boswell after they were killed in a crash. (Brad Tarpley)

The tragic deaths had just happened, and the community in Andrews, Tex., figured their annual Christmas parade might be off this year.

The parade has long embodied the warm holiday season in the panhandle plains town, as each year more than 100 members of the Andrews High School band decorate their drums and horns to entertain spectators with classics they’ve practiced for weeks.

Last month, the band’s director, Darin Johns, 58, and bus driver Marc Boswell, 69, were killed when a truck heading the wrong way on the highway slammed into a bus caravanning the Mighty Mustang Band to a football playoff game in a nearby town. The driver of the truck also died in the crash.

Thirteen of the 25 students aboard the bus were taken to a hospital with mostly mild injuries. Students were shaken from the trauma of the crash and devastated at the loss of their music teacher and driver, Andrews High School principal John Carranco said.

“It’s been a painful loss for everyone,” said Carranco, adding that Johns was a passionate educator who instilled a love of music in his students, and Boswell was a beloved retired teacher.

The crash destroyed the instruments of several band members, and some Andrews residents and business owners presumed the Mighty Mustang Band wouldn’t want to participate in the holiday parade on Dec. 3, Andrews Chamber of Commerce executive director Nohemi Sanchez said. The chamber sponsors the annual parade.

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“With the accident so fresh on their minds, we didn’t want to put any pressure on them to march and perform this year,” she said.

But Sanchez and other residents of Andrews, which has a population of about 14,000, soon learned that the Might Mustang Band wanted the show to go on in honor of their band director. And that the event would draw together nearly 1,400 band students from 33 high schools in a Texas-size display of support. Some of the bands came from more than 100 miles away.

“I was shocked when I saw how many bands wanted to help,” Sanchez said. “They circled our entire community in a big hug of positivity and love. In fact, so many students wanted to march with our kids that we had to expand the parade route twice.”

The idea to invite other schools to march with the Mighty Mustang Band came from Chris Wheeler, an assistant manager at Tarpley Music in Lubbock, which is about 112 miles from Andrews.

Wheeler, 45, personally knew most of the school band directors throughout West Texas, he said. He also knew that the band community was tightly knit, even though towns can be spread apart geographically.

“I was talking to some assistant band directors from Andrews the night after the accident to see how everyone was doing, and they shared with me that they didn’t have enough good instruments available to perform,” he recalled. “They were thinking of backing out of the Christmas parade.”

Wheeler decided to reach out to a few other high school band directors.

“I wanted to bounce an idea off them — what if we got the students some more instruments and everybody wore Christmas attire to march with them in their town’s parade?” he said.

Within hours, his email box was flooded with messages from high school band teachers all over West Texas.

“Everyone had the same response: ‘We’re in!’ ” Wheeler said.

When he told Andrews’ music teachers about the plan, they were enthusiastically on board, he said. The students wanted to perform.

“I told them we’d take care of the planning and all they had to do was show up,” Wheeler said. “We decided that everyone would perform ‘Jingle Bell Rock.’ ”

Two nights before the parade, band leaders from Seminole High School loaded a trailer with 25 surplus instruments and drove about 30 miles to Andrews to replace the ones that were lost in the crash, he added.

On Dec. 3, dozens of school buses loaded with band members and instruments pulled into downtown Andrews while several thousand supporters from far-flung towns lined the parade route down North Main Street.

Sonia Carrion, a music teacher and band director from Lamesa High School about 50 miles northeast of Andrews, brought 90 students — more than any other school — to march in the parade.

She had a special reason for making the trip: Johns was her band teacher when she was in high school, she said.

“He was always such a genuine and kind person — everyone enjoyed being around him,” said Carrion, 34, recalling how Johns influenced her love for playing the clarinet.

“It’s hard to believe he’s gone,” she said. “Nothing was more important to him than the school band. The kids are really going to miss him.”

Another busload of musicians drove 70 miles to Andrews from Brownfield High School in Brownfield, Tex., where Will Burks is the band director. Burks brought 48 students with him to march behind the Andrews musicians and honor Johns and Boswell.

“The band community in this part of Texas is its own family,” said Burks, 59. “We’re all close and we want to take care of our friends. It’s just who we are. It was important to turn out and love on these kids.”

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High school bands in the region usually travel between one and three hours each way to perform at football games or participate in marching band competitions, Burks said.

“It could have been any of us on that bus, so there was no question that we would show up,” he said. “We wanted to share the message that we’re here for the Andrews’ kids now, and we’ll also be here for them in the months ahead.”

One of Burks’s students, Olena Garcia, tied some tinsel to her tenor drum and learned “Jingle Bell Rock” at the last minute when the manager of the Dairy Queen where she works agreed to give her the night off.

“I got the music that night, but I caught on pretty quick and I was happy to be there,” said Garcia, a 16-year-old junior at Brownfield High School. “Band has always been my favorite class and I wanted to do my part to help keep spirits high for Andrews High School.”

Justis Ramford, a percussionist from Lamesa High School, said he could barely believe that so many high school musicians — including 50 tuba players — lined up behind the Mighty Mustang Band.

“I’ve never seen so many band members in one place before,” said Ramford, 18. “I wondered how we might sound because there was no time for a rehearsal, but it all went smoothly and people really seemed to love it.”

Nobody was more appreciative, though, than the 150 members of the Mighty Mustang Band, he said.

“Everybody needs somebody,” Ramford said. “And our turnout really showed that.”

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