When the Baltimore Ravens played the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thanksgiving night, most Delawareans were familiar with the two ex-Blue Hens on the Ravens roster: Joe Flacco and Gino Gradkowski.
But taking the same field that night was another First Stater: 17-year-old Lewes resident Haley Will, who stepped on the field as a member of the Ravens marching band.
Haley, a senior at Cape Henlopen High School, is in her first season as a member of Baltimore’s Marching Ravens. She joined the band in May, just after the team received its rings for winning Super Bowl XLVII. After months of practice, she made her debut in August during the Ravens first home preseason game against the Carolina Panthers. It was not just her first game as a band member; it was the first professional football game she’d ever been to.
The Marching Ravens are holding auditions for musicians age 16 and older.
President John Ziemann said the band is welcoming musicians from Delaware to come out and become a member.
For more information, call 410-491-3778.
“It was so nerve-wracking,” she said of her first time on the field. “It was just crazy seeing all the fans there. It just blew my mind. My first game I was so nervous, and everyone’s like, ‘It’s just preseason, there’s not that many people going to be there.’ Every seat was filled. I was like, ‘You call this empty?’”
Haley became a Ravens fan three years ago when she started dating her boyfriend Craig. It was Craig’s father, Steve Fanto, who recommended Haley join the band.
“When I started dating him, they basically told me, ‘You’re a Ravens fan or you're not a part of this family,’” she said with a laugh. “I love the Ravens though.”
Band members make $7.75 per hour; 2013 is the first year the formerly all-volunteer band has been paid. Haley is playing under the direction of band President John Ziemann, a local legend among Baltimore football fans for refusing to disband the Baltimore Colts Marching Band when the Colts left town in 1984. His story was documented in Barry Levinson’s documentary “The Band That Wouldn’t Die.”
It may not be a lot of money, but for Haley, it means getting paid to do something she loves. She learns new music for every home game. The band practices every Wednesday at the Ravens training facility in Owings Mills, known as “The Castle” for its imposing exterior. The band arrives five hours before each home game for additional practice.
“Basically I have a 12-hour day on game days,” Will said.
She said she has fun taking part in some of the band’s in-game antics, such as holding up the number 3 when the opposing offense faces third down and signaling to move the chains when the Ravens offense makes a first down.
“I guess one of the greatest things about being in the band is the fact that it’s a nice balance of actual musicians. It’s nice because they can give you input and feedback and try to help you,” Haley said.
In addition to the Ravens band, she also plays with Cape High’s marching band and is part of the school jazz band.
Haley said the biggest difference between the Cape High band and the Ravens band that there are more adults around. Still, that doesn't stop them from having fun.
"Even though they are adults, it’s still just like a band atmosphere how everyone likes to joke around,” Haley said.
She said there’s also quite a difference in size between the two bands: the Cape band has three sousaphones, the Ravens have more than 20. Haley is one of 27 trumpet players in the Ravens band.
Haley’s family has lived in the Cape Region most of her life; her family moved to the area from Philadelphia when Haley was 2 years old. Her mother, Cheri, works at Beebe Healthcare and, to pass the time while Haley practices with the Ravens band, has become a member of the band’s crew as a music librarian.
Besides juggling school and bands, Haley also serves as the manager for the Cape High swim teams. An honors student, her schedule also includes a jazz combo band and concert band at school.
She’s also looking ahead to attending college; her first choice is to go to University of Delaware, which would allow her to continue playing with the Ravens. Haley is also looking at Drexel University, Ithaca College and Boston University. She said she plans to study biomedical engineering.
“I’ve always loved University of Delaware, just because it has everything I’ve ever wanted or needed in a school. It’s just a comfortable place,” Haley said.
She said she most enjoys the small town nature of the Cape Region; word got around quickly when the locals learned she had joined the Ravens marching band.
“All summer at my job people were like, ‘Aren’t you that girl?’” Haley said. Her friends from Cape High have also attended games throughout the season.
“There’s never been a dull moment,” Haley said. “The whole experience has been so much fun. I hope I get to do it again next year, despite the fact that I’ll be in college. I wish more people from Delaware would do it, so we can carpool.”