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St. Helens overtook West Albany, a perennial favorite, to capture the title at Oregon State University.

COURTESY PHOTO: NOELLE FRESHNER - The St. Helens High School Wind Ensemble celebrates a state title at Oregon State University on Friday, May 13. The St. Helens High School Band Department has plenty to celebrate this week. On Friday, May 13, the school's Wind Ensemble captured the OSAA 5A State Band Championship, held at Oregon State University.

The St. Helens group beat West Albany, considered a strong entrant, to capture the championship. West Albany finished in second place.

"West Albany High School has been predominantly number one in 5A state, ever since 5A has been created," Noelle Freshner, St. Helens High School band director, said, noting she didn't expect the Lions to overtake West Albany.

"We had a very solid performance, and then they announced us," Freshner said. "It was a complete shock. We played really well that day and all cylinders were firing. We had the best performance of our year and it felt good."

Thirty students participated in the event. Two had to stay home with COVID-19.

Freshner said tears of happiness were abundant after the announcement was made Friday night that the Lions had won it all.

"It was shock," she said. "It was a validation of all of the hard work and the hard times. All of the emotions came to the surface."

The victory was particularly sweet knowing what the band department, along with everyone else, had experienced through the pandemic.

"I spent, up until that point, 13 years in the program, getting it where we were consistently finishing in the top five in the state," Freshner said. "Then to go home and hope that we can come back strong out of it and know that everything we've done leading up to Friday paid off, that it worked."

Freshner continued, "These kids sacrifice a lot to be in this program. They work incredibly hard. They spend a lot of time doing it. … They have never pushed back. They are always saying, 'Yes, let's do it.'"

This is the ninth state championship for the St. Helens bands.

Jeff Himes, who plays euphonium for the ensemble, said it "was all a blur" when the championship announcement was made.

"I remember looking around — I'm crying, Mrs. Freshner is crying, a whole slew of other band students are crying," Himes said. "It's an out-of-this-world experience. I never thought I would get to that point in my life. It just seemed so out of reach the whole time, and now we're here. It's just unbelievable."

Himes continued, "It's hard to believe. It's so hard to believe that all of that hard work paid off."

Himes' fellow student, Caleb Polvogt, a percussionist, was stunned into silence.

"I had a face of shock for, I want to say, about 10 or 20 minutes," Polvogt said. "I couldn't say anything because I was so in shock. All of my friends were just crying in disbelief. … I stood there almost emotionless. I went up on stage, held the trophy. I just couldn't believe it. I was really proud of us."

According to Freshner, students audition in the spring to be in the ensemble. In addition to regular classroom studies, these students participate in numerous evening rehearsals and attend concerts and festivals.

Freshner added, "This group of kids are amazing. They are a team. They are so supportive of each other. We have the best time … I am so proud that I get to continue to work with them."


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