For nearly 60 years, members of the Cranston East Marching Band have participated in the Thunderbolt Invitational.
While it is lovingly called the “Home Show” for the band members, for the senior band members it is their last home performances of their Cranston East careers.
Bands, students, families and friends from all over the Southeastern New England region traveled to the Cranston Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 12, to watch the bands compete and perform. Between admissions and band attendance, there were close to 1,000 watching the performances.
Shelley Fusco and Jean Ruggieri, longtime band supporters and moms, were the coordinators for this year’s event.
“It all turned out wonderful as always. Thank goodness the rain stayed away for us. After so much planning, we finally got to enjoy our final Home Show with our son last night. We had very dedicated volunteers and alumni as well. I’ll definitely be back to help next year,” Fusco said.
“This is my 15th year working the Home Show. It’s a lot of hard work but well worth it,” Ruggieri said. “I continue to do this because I love these kids like they are my own, and it’s such a great program.”
This year, while the number of bands decreased somewhat from years past, the talent, enthusiasm and camaraderie among the participants were unmatched.
“Kids don’t want to seem to dedicate themselves to something like this that takes up so much of their time,” Fusco said. “I wish more kids would start joining, because once they’re in it, they fall in love with it. They have the best groups of friends and are usually the ones who do best in school, too. It’s definitely not for everyone, but this year it seems that all of the shows have less bands coming, which is really a sad thing.”
Ruggieri was quick to point out the positives of being part of the group.
“The friendships last a lifetime,” she said. “My son has been with the same friends since middle school band and they still hang out together. The parents build lifetime friendships also. We even having some couples that are still going strong since band.”
The bands that participated at this year’s Thunderbolt Invitational were Bishop Feehan High School from Attleboro, Massachusetts; Somerset Berkley Regional High School from Somerset, Massachusetts; Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School from South Yarmouth, Massachusetts; Westerly High School; Portsmouth High School; Dartmouth High School from Dartmouth, Massachusetts; Blackstone-Millville High School from Blackstone, Massachusetts; and Cranston High School East.
This year, the Cranston East Thunderbolt Band and Emerald Encore Color Guard performed their show called “Pathways.” Written by Steve Martin and Aaron Hines, the three sets were “Control,” “Tension” and “Breakaway.”
The connections among the members of the Cranston East music family don’t end once students graduate.
Alek Roberti, a member of Cranston East’s class of 2019 and a current music education student at the University of Rhode Island, is still strongly linked to the people and group he was a part of for years.
“I wanted to see all my friends again in the place it all started. I wanted to do my part in keeping the band alive and help guide the younger members to be better,” he said.
After all the bands performed, Cranston East seniors took the field to be honored and acknowledged. They were introduced, and their families came forward to pin flowers on their uniforms to commemorate their last home performance.
Another East tradition is the bestowing of the Benny “Papa” Pagano Award. Band director Greg Arsenault presented the award this year to senior Domenic Fusco III.
Pagano was a great supporter of the band program. He had three grandsons in the band during the late ’90s and early 2000s.
“The student who is awarded the Esprit de Corps is an individual who demonstrates a positive attitude, ultimate commitment, enthusiasm and humility on a daily basis,” Arsenault said.
As any parent would be, Fusco was delighted with the award.
“So very proud of my boy for winning the spirit award, it totally knocked us all over,” she said.
Fusco, himself, was not expecting the award.
“I was very surprised and honored by this award on Saturday night. Starting with the East Music Department in eighth grade, I never expected it to become such an amazing part of my life over these past five years. I’ve always tried to give my best to it, and I never expected any recognition for it,” he said.