On New Year’s Day, the largest high school marching band in the country will represent Texas on the national stage. The Allen High School Escadrille will take 725 of its 774 members to Pasadena, California, to march in the Tournament of Roses Parade, a prestigious honor that took two years of preparation to secure. According to the Dallas Morning News, it will take seventeen or eighteen buses, six airplanes, and $1.2 million to get the award-winning Escadrille to the big show, where, in a giant ocean of blue-and-white polyester, it will march seven miles to the Rose Bowl. It will no doubt be the spectacular, larger-than-life pageantry that the nation expects of our state.

But as with all things in Texas, a few hours in the car and several hundred miles of highway will bring you to a completely different breed of Texas’s halftime heroes. While the Escadrille spent this fall figuring out how to uniformly maneuver an army of teenagers through a hard-right turn, Rotan High School’s band was in the Big Country prepping for its own extraordinary trip to the state finals, a first for one of the smallest high school marching bands in the state.

Handing out an official designation for the tiniest band in Texas is difficult; the University Interscholastic League’s rules for eligibility are determined by a student’s grades, so the numbers fluctuate. But at 24 members, the Rotan Yellowhammer band is certainly a Lilliputian troupe, though its halftime show is a Herculean effort. The mascot takes off her costume and immediately transforms from an oversized beaked bird into the band’s solo saxophonist. Cheerleaders put down their pompoms and take up instruments. Ultimately, two dozen kids—one still in football pads—put on the kind of show usually performed by hundreds.

And it’s because of massive bands like the Allen Escadrille that the Yellowhammer band had its most competitive marching season in school history. When the UIL realigned to include 6A schools in Texas, it meant that the smallest 1A programs such as Rotan’s were competing against comparably sized bands for the first time. In past years, the Yellowhammers faced competition that was three or four times their size, but a new 1A pilot program and UIL shifts—not to mention Rotan’s new band director—put a previously distant goal in their sights. This is the year that the Rotan Yellowhammers had a fighting chance to compete in the UIL state marching contest.

You can watch the Escadrille on primetime in all its splendor, carrying on its legacy as “the biggest band in the land” in a Texas-size march. But the Rotan Yellowhammers represent a different facet of our state: the scrappy, can-do kids from a town smaller than the entire student population of Allen High School. This is their story.