Hays High senior marching into prestigious U.S. Army band
By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN
They were all there. Her parents and friends, teachers and classmates, fellow band members, school administrators and even representatives from the U.S. Army.
And Aislinn Walters sat in a chair of honor in the Hays High School gym, looking as calm as ever Thursday morning.
Looks can be deceiving.
Walters, a Hays High School senior, was pumped. She has been for two months, since finding out she had been selected to be a member of the 2014 U.S. Army All-American Marching Band.
She sat and politely listened to speakers talk about her accomplishments in a ceremony. Walters smiled as she glanced at her parents sitting beside her, adulations about their only child piling up, speaker after speaker.
"It don't think they can quite believe it," Walters said of Greg and Ruth Walters.
Ditto for their daughter, although she is having a good time getting used to the idea of spending a week in San Antonio at the end of the year, preparing to perform at halftime of the Jan. 4 U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
Only 100 band members, along with 25 more for the color guard, are selected from high schools across the country to perform at the All-American bowl, a premier all-star football game featuring the nation's best senior players.
After this year's band members were announced from hundreds of nominees, a Facebook page was started so the band members could get to know each other.
If Walters -- one of four alto saxophonists chosen to perform -- hadn't realized it before, she soon learned she was among an elite group.
"Half these people have performed in the Rose Bowl parade three times or been a top drum major two years running," Walters said. "To be able to be compared to them and make it into this band with people like that is mind-blowing."
Walters is the first student from Hays High to be selected to the All-American band in the 14-year history of the event.
"This is a testimony to Aislinn's work ethic and her love for music," said Craig Manteuffel, band director for Hays High and Aislinn's teacher. "This is indeed a very special day for the entire (town of) Hays, Kansas."
The ironic part is Walters almost told Manteuffel not to nominate her because of the rigorous application process.
"You had to take yourself marching, playing an instrument and give a two-minute speech about accomplishments and why you wanted to be in the band," said Walters, who already was playing in bands at Fort Hays State University as well as participating in her high school bands and choir. She also is co-editor of the Guidon, Hays High's newspaper, and is a member of her school's leadership team.
And, oh, she also takes several honors classes.
Then her best friend, Ashly Arthur, talked her into "going for it." So Arthur and her sister, Rachael Arthur, helped Walters make her audition tape.
Walters also had auditioned for a national concert band in Nashville, Tenn., and found out in July she hadn't made the cut.
Then, in early August, she got a text from Manteuffel, telling her she would be participating in a national band after all.
"I was beyond excited," Walters said. "I'm pretty sure they heard me scream in Ellis."