AGAWAM — When the Agawam contingent for the annual Holyoke St. Patrick’s Parade assembles on the morning of March 17, it will be missing a key group that has been a staple for decades: the Agawam High School band.

The Marching Mohawks won’t participate this year, according to band alumna Cristina Ferraro, because students voted not to. The former drum major delivered this news to the School Committee at its Feb. 27 meeting.

Ferraro, a 2021 AHS graduate now attending Westfield State University, said she learned of the decision from a sibling in the band. She wanted to make the public aware of the band’s decision, since she believes it isn’t widely known. Ferraro said the vote occurred about a year after some students indicated the St. Patrick’s Parade was the least enjoyable of all band activities.

Agawam High School’s marching band, shown at last year’s Holyoke St. Patrick’s Parade, has been a mainstay of the parade’s Agawam division for decades.
Reminder Publishing file photo

She said when the poll was done, it wasn’t prefaced as an indicator of change for this year’s activities. Ferraro said this is “concerning,” because students who are ninth graders for the 2023-24 school year had no input and now have no opportunity to play in the parade.

Ferraro also said band students who aren’t in the marching unit — the majority of band students — were able to vote.

“The vote wasn’t representative. I know other students, seniors especially, who lost out on so much, post-COVID, who were looking forward to one of their final moments in the band program and now have had it stripped from them,” Ferraro said.

She told the committee that for years the band showcased its talent by winning at least one award in the parade, including best marching band. She said with its dedication and hard work, the band has made Agawam proud, but now has suddenly thrown that away.

“Will the townspeople be watching the parade, waiting for the music of the band, only to be disappointed?” she asked.

The band was not on the agenda for discussion, but two School Committee members mentioned it when given the chance to give personal statements at the end of the meeting.

“We take a lot of pride in our music program,” said committee member Wendy Rua. “And I hope from the bottom of my heart that that continues.”

Committee member Shelley Borgatti-Reed said she was aware of “the marching band situation” and was hoping to “have more discussion about it.”

Aiden Kane, an AHS senior, band member and the School Committee’s student representative, explained to the committee that there was an open dialogue with the band director and students about their wishes.

“Every student’s consideration was taken into mind before a final decision was made,” he said. “I’m not saying I agree or disagree with the decision. I’m just saying there were other steps taken to ensure that the present band population was also somewhat taken into consideration before a final decision was made.”

William Hueglin, the band director at AHS, said decisions on where to play are made “based on the best interests of the program.”

“Our process was thoughtful, deliberate and certainly not easy to make,” he said. “Each year we will commit to a schedule of events that include student voice and represent AHS with pride.”

Nicholas Nguyen, another senior and a marching band drum major, was unable to attend the School Committee meeting, but said later that the St. Patrick’s Parade is the only event students have voted on.

“We’re breaking traditions by opting out of this parade. I understand the St. Patrick’s Parade is difficult, and the weather hasn’t been forgiving. However, we do this to represent the town and our program,” he said.

Nguyen said some reasons given by students show there’s no enthusiasm or spirit among band members.

“This is sad,” he said. “I’ve watched many friends quit because of a lack of enthusiasm and how bad the program has become.”

Cristina Ferraro’s father also shared his concerns. Joseph Ferraro said the decision was done in a way that “excluded parents as well as members of the band program — especially marching band students.”

He said during the past seven years he’s seen the program “shrink in numbers, cancel events or simply not do them at all.” While the coronavirus pandemic had an impact, he said other programs in the area have grown, while Agawam’s has shrunk, and “I believe it’s decisions such as canceling the parade that have led to this.”

Joseph Ferraro said neither parents nor, apparently, the Agawam St. Patrick’s Committee were asked to give their opinions.

“With a highly popular event that represents the local community, you would think those two groups would have been consulted prior to any decision being made.”

Abaigeal “Abbie” Malouin. president of the Agawam St. Patrick’s Committee, said her committee wasn’t informed by the band, but instead was notified by the music director of the Holyoke St. Patrick’s Committee. Malouin was informed on Feb. 15 that the Agawam band wouldn’t appear in the March 17 parade.

Malouin said the committee is “disappointed” to break the longstanding tradition.

“We’ve looked forward to having them each year,” she said. “Being a part of the Holyoke St. Patrick’s Parade is an honor — we’re still looking forward to celebrating our award winners as well as our colleen and her court in the parade.”

Doug Reed, the group’s past president, said the entire committee is “very disappointed” with the last-minute notification. The unexpected loss of the band follows the committee losing a space to build floats for the past two parades.

Reed, who formerly led the construction team that built a unique float each year, said the 2024 colleen and court will still ride in style in a horse-drawn carriage, just as they did for the 2023 parade.

“The lack of a space to construct another award-winning float has been a challenge, but we do have a possible space solution we hope to announce in the coming months,” he said. “The desire and enthusiasm to again begin building floats has not diminished — it seems stronger than ever.”

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