After completing a walking marathon in Oct. 2008, Mario Cruz complained to his mother about chest pain and had a 90-degree temperature.
Shaking it off, he went to sleep.
“I am like my stepdad,” he said. “You would never know if either of us was sick.”
However, his concerned mother researched his condition through the internet. Bursting into his room she told him he was having a heart attack and rushed him to the emergency room.
That was the only year in the past decade that Mario did not march in the Band of the Hour, the University of Miami’s marching band.
As Cruz takes the field this year for his 10th year, he will have broken the record for the most seasons to march in UM’s band.
Cruz’s first attempt to be a part of the band was when he was a student at Miami Dade College. He came into the practice room at UM and was quickly intimidated and left.
His second year he joined the band successfully.
From his third year to his seventh year in the band he was enrolled at UM receiving financial help through his mother’s job at the bookstore.
However, he said school was not his top priority and he held multiple jobs at this time such as a car mechanic and cook.
It was in his seventh year on the band that Cruz started taking his education more seriously.
“I let work take over and I realized I didn’t want to be a cook,” he said.
For the rest of his time at the university, he supported his own education by tuition remission through his job at the law library. This job covers the cost of seven credits each school semester and six credits during the summer.
His mother no longer works at UM as she has kidney failure.
Cruz learned his first instrument at a young age. His grandmother had him playing piano when he was three.
As a freshman in high school, he broke his ankle playing football and his grandmother told him that he was going into music, which started his band career.
His stepfather, Alvin Ward, a former right tackle who played on the 1983 UM championship team, fully supported this decision.
“I always tell all my children to do what they love,” Ward said. “I think he stays in music because he is doing it from the heart.”
This will be Cruz’s last year on the band. Next year he will be a senior and be unable to march as his minor in education requires time-consuming field work. He will finish his career playing the tuba.
“When people see Mario they see the tradition,” Charles L. Damon, the senior staff assistant of the marching band, said. “He knows the band history, where it came from, where it is now.”
“Mario is simply the teddy bear of the marching band…everyone loves him,” Damon said.
For this year, Cruz sees the possibility for great things.
“I think we can be undefeated,” he said. “You have to have faith in Shannon.”
See more posts from Ed S. Fishman