El Campo ISD students perform last year during half time of the Ricebird’s game against West Columbia.


El Campo ISD band director expects students to continue their success after the school earned recognition last year.

The Ricebird high school and middle school bands received division honors for the first time since 2012 last year. In addition, the band placed top 10 in the region.

“These kids came in last year with no expectations and wound up with the highest honors they could possibly get,” band director Rolando Cantu said. “I told them if they follow me, we can get to a good place, and by the end of the year, they proved they could achieve big things.”

Cantu graduated from Texas State University in San Marcos and brings more than 15 years of experience to the job. He replaced 25-year band director Mark Van Gorp last year.

Cantu hopes his football coach style approach to directing will continue to motivate students to practice hard and be better than last year.

“The goal every year is to keep the football fans so engaged that they want to stay in their seats during halftime,” Cantu said. “This is a special group of kids that continue to surprise people.” 

Cantu is working with El Campo native Eric Defriend and head middle school band director Daisy Case. 

“I love the family atmosphere that this school has and wanted to come here the first chance I got,” Case said. “We have a lot of special kids in our system, and we are working hard to make sure we prove it.”

Case has worked as the choir director for El Campo ISD and is classically trained as an instrumentalist. She credits Cantu’s approachability and teaching style in turning the 105-member band around last year.

“I love the atmosphere we have within the group this year, “Case said. “You can tell these kids want to be in this band, and it has a lot to do with Mr. Cantu.” 

Friday featured the first display of Cantu’s New Orleans Jazz style the band will be playing this year. In addition, the band invited 73 alumni to the field during halftime to play with current students and be recognized for their contributions. 

The band’s first competition is a UIL marching contest on Oct. 16 in El Campo.

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