A group of relative beginners from Hesperia forced several more established mariachi groups to swallow their pride as the High Desert Mariachi Juvenil wowed the crowd for an impressive second place at last month's "Battle of the Mariachis" at the San Juan Capistrano Mission.


"The audience loved them," said group director Valentin Godina. "We won the crowd. We were close to first place."


Facing teams from San Diego, Los Angeles, San Jose and Oxnard, the 12-member band who has been "together for about a year" embraced the moment and scored big.


"The competition was very intense," Godina said. "These kids have been practicing a long time. They did such hard work that we were able to get second place.


High Desert Mariachi Juvenil won a trophy and $1,000.


One of the local group's more experienced players, Godina's son Quincey Godina, won the Tom Tracy Award for his outstanding playing, singing and expression. During the competition, the junior Godina performed three songs, one on guitarron (bass guitar), trumpet and vocal. Godina, who is currently learning to play the stringed harp, also won a $300 scholarship. He will be a sophomore at Sultana High School next school year.


After performing at the competition, the band appeared at the Mariachi USA Festival at the Hollywood Bowl. Although the event wasn't competitive, the band "knocked the socks off of the other teams that were there," the director said.


Several teams from the Los Angeles Unified School District participated. High Desert Mariachi Juvenil was the only team from outside the L.A. area to perform.


"The Hollywood Bowl was very exciting for the kids. In five or 10 years they'll look back and say, 'Wow, we were there!'"


High Desert Mariachi Juvenil performs at competitions, community and private events such as quinceañeras and weddings, and a local convalescent homes. The band, which includes 28 players in the mariachi school program, 16 performers and a competition squad of 12, rehearses regularly at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Hesperia.


According to Godina, the organization is looking to hire a part-time music instructor to help refine the students' musical notation reading abilities. They are need an experienced grant writer to help find grants to keep the program going.


"It's very important that we find funding to keep this program free for these kids," he said.


Not only do the youth learn to play an instrument, but they learn important life lessons.


"There are rules. They must be respectful, no criticism is allowed, and they must come with intentions to play."


Additionally, he envisions creating a collaborative partnership with the Hesperia Unified School District.


"We're looking for a way to team up with the school district."


Godina also sees partnering with DB Music in Hesperia, which is the only music store in the area to sell traditional mariachi instruments, to start a local mariachi competition geared for young people. Currently Godina is looking for event supporters, vendors and location.


"We've got to keep the kids busy," he said.