It was an extraordinary experience for Carissa Bonacci and simultaneously an ordinary performance for the Oñate Royal Knight Regiment Band. What makes this moment caught on video so special is the reality of these two opposing descriptions.
Brothers Aidan and Isaac Brealey-Rood, in uniform, took their places on the football field on Saturday, September 7 to perform as part of the percussion section for the Oñate High School Band in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Aidan, a sophomore, was on the marimbas while brother Isaac, a freshman, was on the drum pad.
Mom, Carissa Bonacci, was in the stands with her phone set to record and was in utter amazement when Isaac was not only in uniform but taking part as one of the other 180 members of the marching band – watching intently for direction and playing his heart out on his muted drum pad.
This moment was a first for Isaac. He had never been treated like just another classmate or teammate in school. His intellectual disabilities have prevented him from participating in many interscholastic activities.
“It’s been a struggle with him trying to find him a good fit in the schools his whole life – really since preschool,” Bonacci said.
Not only has Isaac found an activity that he enjoys, but a group of people that embraces him for all that he is.
“It makes me so happy for him that he has found this in his life,” Bonacci said. “If somebody could see when I drop him off in the morning, or when I come pick him up after rehearsal or while he’s hanging out with the other kids during football games. It’s all natural. They enjoy each other’s company and I don’t get the impression that they look at him any differently for his capabilities than the way they look at each other.”
The extraordinary moment for Bonacci is a direct result of her son Aidan’s ordinary request to allow Isaac to join him this summer for summer band.
“I spent a lot of time in band and I really enjoyed it,” Aidan said. “I thought it would be great to have him here. So, I tried to convince mom and don’t regret it.”
Aidan had to convince his mom that this was a good idea, but all he had to do was ask the Oñate Director of Percussion, Valentino (Tino) Leyba, and the answer, as explained by the Oñate Director of Band Shawn Silva, was an immediate “yes.”
“It all started at the end of last school year,” Silva said. “Isaac’s older brother, Aidan, had asked Mr. Leyba if it was okay if his brother Isaac were to join band, be part of band, do something with band and, like always, the answer was yes. We’ll figure out something for Isaac to do and he’ll be a part of the program in some shape, form or capacity.”
Aidan viewed the Oñate band as his home-away-from-home. The culture created by the team of directors and best friends – Silva, Kevin Moreman and Leyba – was one that Aidan wanted his younger brother to be a part of.
“We constantly, from day one, tell our kids that we have to take care of one another,” Silva said. “When you have 180 kids you have 180 dramas, right? So, we are constantly telling our kids you have to take care of one another. This is our team. We don’t care where you come from, what your background is, how rich, how poor, what you have, what you don’t have. There are no excuses. Make it happen. Do your job. Take care of one another. I think that the kids take care of each other so well that they didn’t notice Isaac’s situation. He is just a band kid. He’s just a teammate. It’s our culture, it’s our kids, it’s an expectation that you take care of one another.”
Aidan had been a percussionist since the fourth grade. He went into this summer knowing his place in his band family, but no one was quite sure where Isaac would find his place. It didn’t take long for Isaac to find it himself.
“When Mr. Silva is teaching he often clicks drum sticks together and I think Isaac saw him doing that, so he started doing that,” Moreman said. “For the first few weeks he would sit crisscross-applesauce in the front of the marching band banging on the asphalt. We put him in the percussion section – I don’t think we really did. He put himself there.”
Months of practicing in the hot sun were now going to be put to the test as the Oñate Royal Knight Regiment Band took to the field on Saturday, September 7.
“When we were putting the production together on the field, we were talking about, ‘hey, Isaac can actually hit the drum and he’s enjoying his music. Let’s make sure he’s part of everything that’s happening. Put him in a uniform, give him a drum stand and let him do his thing. The kids love it. The kids love him.”
Isaac, Aidan and the rest of the Oñate Royal Knight Regiment Band did what they came there to do. They each simply did their job as they were expected to do, while Carissa Bonacci recorded the performance overwhelmed with pride.
Three million views later, the performance has opened hearts and minds across the country.
Aidan hopes that the take-away from their experience is, “That everyone has something that they can do and I hope this just opens eyes that there are even things that are competitive or challenging that there should still be a place for them.”
It is a nice reminder of the importance of education-based activities beyond the state championships.
“Our job as teachers is just to get these kids involved and let them do what they want to do,” Moreman said. “It’s really a neat situation. To us and to our kids they just don’t know any different.”
The truly extraordinary part of this story is that it’s not extraordinary at all.
Lindsey Atkinson is director of sports/communications associate at the National Federation of State High School Associations.