Jalen Howsare experiences things a little differently when he takes to the field as a member of the Solon High School marching band,
Before each performance, the 14-year-old freshman assembles his trumpet and dons his uniform. He warms up with his bandmates. He laughs and talks with his friends, calming his nerves before the coming performance.
If you didn’t know Howsare, it would be difficult to tell he’s blind.
Once he’s led to the field, his bandmates figure out where he’s supposed to go and guide him during each song.
“You have to watch out for other people around him,” junior Mikaela Lighty explains.
“Whoever’s closest to him takes control and takes him to his next spot and leads him by putting their hand on his shoulder,” said junior trumpet player Taylor Walkner.
There’s rarely a moment to stand still as band students weave around the 50 yard line.
“You need good band mates to help you get through it,” Howsare said. ”I worked on (marching) more and more until I finally had some idea of where I was supposed to go.”
His hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“People see how hard he works and there are no excuses,” said senior Lauren Benzing. “If he can do it, they can do it. I think that motivates people to work hard themselves.”
Band director Desmond Cervantez, who has been working with Howsare since sixth grade, agrees.
“He’s fearless,” said Cervantez. “He has to be to get out there on the field and put himself out there like that and he’s just doing an awesome job.”
Howsare marched with the band for the first time at a pair of competitions in September. Solon played a medley of Beatles songs including, “Yesterday, “Eleanor Rigby” and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”
“I like ‘Sgt. Pepper’s,’ that’s our ending song,” Howsare said.
Cervantez said he doesn’t change anything he does to accommodate Howsare.
“The kids just make it happen for Jalen,” Cervantez said. “I thought it would go well, but it’s brought everyone closer together even more than before.”
Howsare’s blindness dates back to 1999, when he was 18 months old. His parents, Tom and Kristi Howsare, noticed something was wrong with their son’s eyes — they were glassy and overly reflective.
“We really didn’t think a lot about it,” Tom Howsare recalled. “But I said to Kristi, well, maybe we should go in and get it looked at.”
Doctors at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City found the boy had tumors behind his eyes and in the surrounding fluid, an illness called bilateral retinoblastoma.
At the time, Dr. Culver Boldt said it was the worst case of retinoblastoma at the hospital in decades. The Howsares made the difficult choice to remove their son’s eyes in order to ensure the cancer never returned. He now has prosthetic eyes and is cancer free.
Howsare has a teacher for Braille and a mobility coach who helps him learn to get around the school and ride the bus. He’s one of a handful of blind students at Solon, but the only one in the band.
Cervantez said the experience of having Howsare in the band has built upon its mission of giving back.
“We really are just a service organization that happens to play music,” he said.
The band has adopted a child from Uganda, raised about $1,000 for various charities during last year’s holiday show and has sent small groups to play at local hospitals and community locations.
“We’re all doing so much more that’s so much bigger than ourselves,” said junior Aiyana Cervantez, the band director’s daughter.
For Howsare, marching with the band is about living life without limits. He plans to go to college for computer programming and continue to play music.
“Nothing is impossible if you want it enough,” he said.
Between now and his high school graduation, Howsare’s parents plan to encourage him to try new things, meet new people and make lifelong friends.
“We want him to go to college and we want him to have that experience, we want him to meet a nice girl, we want him to have everything,” his father said. “God’s helped us deal with it. He helps Jalen every day and we’re just thankful.”