While the memories are getting fuzzy, it was around 1990 or 1991 when two Riverside graduates met at a kitchen table in an apartment on Newell Street to discuss the idea of forming the Riverside High School Alumni Band. That kitchen belonged to future RHS Hall of Fame inductee Mike Vaccariello (RHS ‘83), whose idea has now stretched to over 30 years of graduates coming back each homecoming game to join the Riverside Regiment.
Mike had attended a Harvey vs. Riverside game at Painesville Recreation Field and noticed that the Red Raiders had an alumni band. He thought to himself, “That looks like fun, we ought to try that.”
He contacted Tom Deep, the RHS Band Director at the time and started by asking for a list of former band students. That’s when the phone calls and letters started, and the Alumni Band was formed.
Many might not remember, but the early the Alumni Band used to march with the high school band in the Fairport Mardi Gras Parade as well. The practice stopped when the Riverside Marching Band itself stopped performing in that parade.
Mike and Tom also had to make sure that there was enough extra percussion and other instruments to hand out to former students. Music needed to be distributed each year as we added tunes and members. That’s a task that has gotten much larger in the ensuing years with current band director David Shwartz.
Early on, the attendance was very sparse as the word was starting to get out, usually only drawing anywhere from 25 to 35 alumni. Some of us were wondering if we’d ever get the momentum we’d need to get those numbers up.
The numbers did rise. Not long after and then for many years, the band averaged well over 100 alumni each year. Just before the onset of Covid, those numbers were regularly near 150. Because of Covid, there was also a one-year pause in the Alumni Band performance.
Some graduates make special plans to make a long trip from home to participate. One example is in 2012 when several members of the Capella family drove in from different parts of Ohio and beyond to help honor their dad and grandfather, Bob Capella, who was the Riverside band director for many years in the 1970s and ’80s.
The band plays for both pregame and halftime. To keep it simple, at halftime, the band usually sticks to a rotation of three of the same eight to ten song library, always finishing with Hang On Sloopy no matter what the other two halftime tunes are. For pregame, there’s one rotating song, then the National Anthem and the Alma Mater.
One of the fun things for the Alumni Band members is that each gets to stand within the band next to a high school student. (See the photo at the top!) Many times, alumni will choose to stand next to one of their kids, or someone they know. Others have their favorite spots on the field. Many other alumni bands separate out the two units. It’s a lot more fun chatting with the regular members during the evening, even though they try to stay at attention while the alumni are out there joking around.
The Alumni Band has endured all weather conditions, especially when, until just a few years ago the Homecoming game was played in October and not September as it is now. There were several times it was snowing while we were on the field. There was one game where the rain was so bad, we ended up playing from the sidelines as the field was quite muddy. That was the year we had to rehearse in the auditorium. I don’t think that many musicians at one time have ever played in that room.
One of the highlights over the years was a special performance of the RHS Alumni Band at the 50th football game played against cross-town rival Harvey in 2001. Alumni bands from both schools were invited to perform at the Beaver Bowl that year. There was an extra special moment as the Riverside Marching Band and Alumni marched into the stadium. As we made the turn onto the back stretch of the track, we were greeted by the Harvey band playing the RHS fight Song. They were sitting in bleachers set up just for them for this game. Riverside’s band and alumni answered with Harvey’s Fight Song. Fifty years of football rivalry, but mutual respect among musicians.
New graduates look forward to coming back the first fall they’ve been away to hang out and have fun with friends from later classes still in high school. This participation actually helps the “older” alumni out as many of us didn’t sing, dance, and shout like the band does today. Plus, many of us older players haven’t exactly played our instruments much over the years.
And through it all, the one constant has been the Vaccariello family. At least one person from that family has been around for every Alumni Band performance since the beginning, whether it be Mike, two of his siblings, (Frank RHS ‘80 & Michelle ‘89) or some of their children. This run included having Mike’s dad, Frank, march with us in 2014 when 11 Vaccariellos from four generations were on the field together.
Every year, you can see the smiles and feel the fun everyone, alumni and current Regiment included, is having during homecoming with the Riverside High School Alumni Band.
To be part of the fun, sign up for the email notification and be prepared to join us every homecoming. Submit your email address here!
Here are photos from the 2023 Alumni Band performance and practice.
- Sarah Folkmann Strimpel
- Mary Papadopoulos
- Frank Vaccariello