Every two years the Alamodome plays host to the University Interscholastic League State Marching Band Contest. The competition that involved hundreds of Texas high schools might not attract the media attention given to high school football, but reaching the state championships is every bit of a big deal to participants and their families.

Far more student musicians graduate from college than their athlete counterparts. Playing a musical instrument in a marching band or orchestra is a much better predictor of future education outcomes than playing a sport.

The competition is held every two years for high schools of all sizes, from 1A to 6A. On Nov. 8, Election Day, while tens of thousands of Bexar County voters went to the polls, 40 high school marching bands gathered at the Alamodome for the state finals.

My godson, Philip True Jr., was one of the many students on the field that day. Philip is a 17-year-old senior at Brownsville Hanna High School in the Rio Grande Valley, and a percussionist in the school marching band. For the Hanna Eagles, the marching band’s successful return to the UIL State Marching Band Championships came after finishing among the top four bands in this year’s 24-school regionals. The Hanna Eagles finished 32nd in 2014 and 35th in the state finals in 2012.

There were a total of 40 high school marching bands that made it to the Alamodome for the biannual competition this year. Hanna’s eight-minute performance was impressive, even if the 6A school finished 33rd.

Martha True, Philip’s mother, acceded to her son’s wish to dye his hair blonde for the competition. Philip will graduate in June, and plans to attend Texas Southmost College for one year and then pursue a radiologist technician associate degree, either there, in Corpus Christi, or San Antonio. He also is working on earning his driver’s license, which he hopes to have by year’s end.

The name Philip True is a familiar one to those who lived in San Antonio in the late 1990s and early 2000s. True, Philip Jr’s father, was the Express-News Mexico City bureau chief who disappeared in December 1998 while trekking solo through the Sierra Madre, home to the Huichol Indians. At the time, True’s wife, Martha, was pregnant with their first child.

True was making the journey on his own time without the knowledge of his editors, hoping to return with a story about Mexico’s most remote indigenous people, who lived without electricity, road systems, or communications systems, yet used car batteries to power televisions brought into the mountains on the backs of donkeys. The remnants of an ancient culture and way of life threatened by the encroachment of modernity was what interested True, an experienced back country hiker with an eye for stories found in hard-to-reach corners of the country.

Unfortunately, True fell victim to that clash himself. He was set upon and killed by two Huichols, brothers-in-law, along the trail several days into his trek through the isolated, wild canyon country. The two men were convicted of homicide and sentenced to 20 years in prison, but they were never re-arrested after a judge set them free while waiting trial and then fled himself to escape any challenge to his actions.

Such tragedies are not uncommon in Mexico, often compounded by Mexico’s corrupt and dysfunctional judicial system. Twelve years after their conviction and sentencing, True’s killers remain free in the Huichol Sierra, untouched and undisturbed by indifferent Mexican authorities.

True’s widow, Martha, is a Matamoros native who returned to the border after the killing and gave birth to Philip months before her scheduled delivery. He weighed a little more than two pounds. For weeks, Philip Jr. was cared for in a Brownsville neonatal unit until he could survive on his own.

Ever since, the True family has lived in Brownsville. Martha returned to college to earn a teaching degree and certification in special education so she could better raise Philip with his special needs and so she could teach other children like him in the public school system. Philip’s childhood included a series of operations to improve his mobility and coordination. A caring network of extended family, friends, and tutors have enabled him to successfully navigate K-12 and now look ahead to Philip starting community college as a freshman in the Fall 2017.

Philip True Jr. is the silver lining in what once was a very dark cloud. I hope you enjoy a brief video of True and his fellow classmates as the Brownsville Hanna High school Marching Band performs at the Alamodome.

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Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard, co-founder of the San Antonio Report, is now a freelance journalist.