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“He’s a role model to all of us:” Completely blind, Rufus King student finds success in marching band

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MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- Synchronization, memorization and coordination are all extremely important to a marching band's success. One member of the Rufus King International High School's marching band had to overcome some challenges in order to find success in his role.

"I think it's so important for the kids' musical education, really. Part of being in band, a core part of it, is getting to do this marching thing. It's a really complicated thing for the kids. It's really quite difficult to put together the steps and memorize the drill on the field as well as memorizing all the music," Rufus King International High School Band & Orchestra Director Ben Zabor said.

Carlos Garcia is a freshman baritone player, and one of scores of kids who are part of Zabor's marching band. Garcia has made this marching band different from any other Zabor has directed.

"I was, honestly, pretty nervous about it at first," Zabor said.

"It was difficult because I could never walk in step and play the notes at the same time. I had to practice at that and you know, get it perfect or I was going to walk out of step," Garcia said.

Garcia is blind.

"Since about the age of two, I couldn't see anything at all," Garcia said.

Retinal blastoma took away Garcia's sight.

"It doesn't feel like I lost something or anything like that," Garcia said.

Because he is blind, Garcia works with Julie Hapeman, a certified orientation and mobility specialist when he's at school. She also helps him in band.

"This is the very first time that I know of that we've had a student who's blind who has decided that he is going to be in marching band," Hapeman said.

"She needs to help me mostly because there's a certain formation that we have to take and a certain direction we have to walk -- so she guides me in those directions or else I would get lost," Garcia said.

This fall, when the band performed at Rufus King International High School's Homecoming game, Garcia and Hapeman were marching with the rest of the band.

"He's such a bright and capable young man and it has worked seamlessly for us. I don't think anyone watching our Homecoming show, if they weren't aware he was out there with a guide, would have even noticed," Zabor said.

But some are taking notice of Garcia.

"Already -- a middle school student who's blind had heard that Carlos is in marching band and she said 'hmm, you know what, maybe I should take up an instrument and then I could go and be in marching band myself,'" Hapeman said.

"He's a role model to all of us," Zabor said.

Garcia deflects talk of him being a role model. He says for him, it's more about accomplishing goals he has set for himself -- like marching in step and memorizing the music -- even if others question his abilities.

"It feels that I proved them wrong. I don't say 'I told you so,' but I'm pretty sure they have a look on their faces that says 'wow,' you know, because they never thought I could do it," Garcia said.

Garcia and the rest of the Rufus King International High School marching band will perform in Milwaukee's Holiday Parade this Saturday morning -- and you can see that parade on FOX6!