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Abilene High band member keeps marching on despite disability

By Jennifer Kendall, jkendall@ktxs.com
Published On: Sep 16 2013 08:53:03 PM CDT
Updated On: Sep 16 2013 10:57:15 PM CDT
ABILENE, Texas -

Friday night lights; everybody knows them, everybody loves them, but one member of the Abilene High School marching band has a completely different perspective.

"Getting to march across the field on Friday nights with the band with the drum line …you get that warm fuzzy feeling and you say hey I'm part of this band family," said baritone player Mariah Long.

Mariah’s been part of the Abilene High band family for the past three years, but her place with the band wasn't always so clear.

"The doctors knocked the props right out from underneath us and told us there would never be a chance ever that she would potentially be able to see," said Mariah’s mother, Kimberly Long.

Mariah was born 100 percent blind.

"I can't see light or anything at all. I do know when the suns there though," Mariah said.

"I stopped and thought why did it happen to me? Why was it, why was God punishing me, but then I sat back to look and see that he wasn't really punishing me he was giving me a gift," Kimberly said.

Kimberly’s gift was Mariah. Mariah’s gift was music.

"A world without music will be... I’d go blind more than I already am because a world without music is like a world without sight because I can see things through music," Mariah said.

"She's actually a very good player. She catches on unbelievably fast. You can tell her what to play one time and she can play it. She makes a few mistakes, but not very many and not very often," Abilene High School Band Director Paul Walker said.

Mariah isn't a student at Abilene High. She goes to ATEMS, but her sophomore year a policy change at AISD allowed her to take extra curricular classes like band at Abilene High. For Mariah it was a dream come true.

Since then she's been playing the baritone by ear. She was Walker's first completely blind student.

"It improved my communication skills quite a bit, but it's also opened my mind to how fast people can catch on to things... Every minute of every class you know she's listening," said Walker.

Marching was another challenge. That’s where Mariah’s parents came in. Last year her mother spent more than 150 hours at band practices helping her learn the steps.

"I wouldn't trade it for the world.... I don't think I could let someone else teach her to do what she does out on the field," Kimberly said.

Somewhere along the way, it was Mariah who became the teacher.

"There are times when I kind of get down and think there's no way I can do that but she's like mom if I can do it you can do it," Kimberly said.

"I've learned so much from her and I've learned so much about kids and the human spirit,” said Walker.

This is the first and last year Mariah will march across the field with the Abilene High School band.

"To look at her and see her face and see the excitement on her face and the pride that her parents have in her and what she can do… that's why I teach," said Walker.

"I didn't get where I'm at just by sitting and letting people do things for me I had to work and it may not be easy, but you can do it and there may be times where you where you want to give up and you can't," Mariah said.

Mariah will graduate this spring. She’s planning to go on to college to possibly study music.