OAKLAND — When you're the only high school marching band in town, you need to make a name for yourself — even if your budget is tiny and your uniform has no stripes or plumes.
That mind-set has given Skyline High School's small group of mobile musicians a renewed sense of energy, discipline and drive this year, its student-leaders say.
"We've been trying to move forward, so it's not just, 'Oh, there's the marching band,' but 'Oh wow, look at the marching band!'" said Aimee Fields, a 15-year-old drum major. "We are the only marching band left in Oakland, and we want to represent that."
Skyline, Oakland's largest public school, long has been known for its wide array of music and arts programs. But the marching band, which was brought back about six years ago by former music director Ted Allen, has been less popular than some of the school's other performing arts options.
This fall, the 33-member group has tried to change that. Under new music director Vincent Tolliver, it performed at almost every one of the school's football game, stepped out at the school's opening pep rally, and captured the Homecoming crowd's attention with its "Thriller"-themed field show.
On Saturday at the Oakland Holiday Parade, the fedora-wearing teenagers lined up on 11th Street with bands from Concord, Hayward, Napa, Pittsburg and San Jose.
Most of the other groups were larger and had fancier uniforms. Some executed mini-formations as they marched, the stripes along their pant legs bending in unison. Others featured color guards in sparkling leotards, twirling flags.
Sharon Higgins, a Skyline parent and band booster, had read an article about how Pittsburg High School managed to rebuild its band in the 1980s after devastating cuts to the district's music programs — much like those Oakland experienced. On Saturday, she studied Pittsburg's lineup.
"This is the real thing," she said.
Ruth Rosenblatt, Skyline's band president, said one of her goals is to show everyone, especially her Skyline classmates, that the quintessential high school institution is, in fact, quite cool.
"They think, 'It's marching band. Nerdy. Geeks.' But it's not that," she said.
Now that the group is unified, with a large group of talented ninth-graders (thanks, in part, to a recent renaissance in middle school music programs), Rosenblatt said she has great hope for its future.
What the band really needs now, she said, is "a little glamour."