By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Cedar Creek, as a high school, has existed for less than 10 years and is the newest school in the Cape-Atlantic League. For the past few years, at Saturday home football games, there has been a handful of students up in the left corner of the stands playing a few instruments and trying to rally the crowd to support the Pirates’ football players. It was more a pep band than anything else.
But former band director Jim Goodrich spent a couple years building up the numbers in the band, as well as teaching the skills necessary to play some of the numbers the pep band would use throughout a football game. New band director Jordan Bilicki — a 2011 Oakcrest High School graduate who began teaching music at Cedar Creek this year — has taken that foundation and run with it, and now the school has a full-fledged “Pirate Band.”
The school had ordered fancy band uniforms a few years ago, and Bilicki made it his mission to turn a lively student pep band into an actual working band that could perform halftime shows in front of the home crowd. The students came to school throughout the summer and put in a lot of work to turn themselves into a band that could get out there and put on a performance, and the results are starting to show. They’ve been out there for each home game, and now fans are beginning to wait a few minutes before heading over to the snack stand to grab a Pirate burger. They want to hear the band’s performance, which immediately follows a routine put on by the Cedar Creek cheerleaders.
“The band started off in the summer. We had a new band director come in. He said we were going to put it together and we all worked hard at it. We’ve really come far, and it’s pretty impressive. We’re really excited to have this new band and everybody has really rallied behind it. The school has really gotten behind it, too,” said senior conductor Eric Bucikowski. “So far, we’ve just done the one song and performance, but we’ve worked really hard to perfect it. It’s been a learning process. When we first started up we didn’t really know what to do, but Mr. Bilicki really helped and guided us, and everybody got into it.”
“I’m really excited about it because I didn’t imagine us doing something like this anytime soon. But, when Mr. Bilicki came in, we just had it. Like Eric said, during the summer we had to do a bunch of practices, and it was a bunch of long hours and took up a lot of time. It required us to be very disciplined and be serious about it,” said fellow senior Matt DeGuzman, who plays the clarinet. “This is a story about that process, and we’re trying to tell the world about it. I find it really cool (to wear the uniform).”
Bands are a huge part of high school football, and Cedar Creek’s Pirate Band is trying to build a legacy at the school. The band doesn’t have the numbers or experience yet to be a competitive marching band that could rival the likes of Absegami, Ocean City, Mainland or Egg Harbor Township, but the students certainly are laying the foundation for what could become a very good band in the future.
“It’s been a lot of hard work, but it’s been incredible. The support from my administration, my supervisors, Jim Goodrich — that’s been absolutely amazing. We like to be called a ‘Pirate Band.’ We like to have our own identity as a band and we’re not ready to compete yet (as a marching band),” Bilicki said. “I did four years of it in high school and three years of it in college and I remember how difficult it was. I know this is a growing program but it’s definitely taking the right steps. I like that we are out here at the football games. That’s where we are going to be for the next couple of years and I’m OK with that because we love the home crowds.”
“We didn’t lack for morale and wanting to have a full-fledged band. That’s been wanted at this school the entire time I’ve been here. Once Mr. Bilinski got here and we got more organized, we got it together,” added senior percussionist Jose De La Cruz. “I wasn’t able to make it to the summer practices, so it took me almost a month of really listening to the music and talking to my band mates about where to be to get it down. One of the most thrilling parts for me is that this is the first year we’ve really started it, so now we can pass this on to the next years. I’m excited to see what this can become in next few years.”
Bilinski said the school and community have showed overwhelming support for the efforts of the Pirate Band.
“There are so many things about this school and the community. I was recently talking with our principal, Scott Parker, and just teaching here for the last two months — the pep rallies are phenomenal,” he said. “We helped out with building two sheds as part of a program the school is running, and the next day (Parker) was wearing a Cedar Creek Band T-shirt. It’s really incredible to see the outstanding support. (Athletic Director) Mike McGhee, Scott Parker, these guys taught me when I was in high school and it’s been phenomenal now to work with them.”
Bilicki said the key has been him showing the kids that he’s completely invested in the process of creating a full band, and the kids have responded to his passion as he tries to take what Goodrich built and make it even better.
“My dad, ever since I was a young kid, would tell me that if I could find something I love to do, I’d never have to work a day in my life. That’s definitely true. These kids make it super simple for me,” Bilicki said. “I’m a young guy, but I have a great camaraderie with the kids. I have trust in them, and that trust is reciprocated. It’s a good experience for myself to teach them, and for them to learn and grow. They really are the reason why we do this as educators. I love the fact that we have so much support in the district. The other bands and band directors (at Oakcrest and Absegami) were so excited we were coming out with this.”
Bucikowski said people are starting to recognize him as a member of the Pirate Band, something he never thought would be possible during his first few years of high school.
“I know I’ve had people come up to me in school and say, ‘hey, was that you out there?’ And I’ve had people at work say, ‘are you the one who was the conductor in the band out there?’ So that’s great,” he said. “It seems like everybody is really in support of this.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays