Royalty High Steppers

As children and adults look on, Marquest Haley (front, right) and the Royalty High Steppers Drill Team march during a parade

“OMG 10 MORE DAYS ... ARE YALL READY!!! ROYALTY BOUT TO SHUT LANCASTER DOWN ... WHO’S READY?”

Before panic ensues, let’s break down this recent post on the Royalty High Steppers Drill Team and Drum Squad’s Facebook page.

The countdown is a reference to the July 20 showcase at Gifford C. Cole Middle School by the Antelope Valley’s one-and-only drill team. For the unfamiliar, a drill team is typically part of larger band at historically Black colleges and universities. Drill teams are popular because of their high energy and authenticity, as well as competitive nature.

“This is kind of like military marching, but with drums and more hype and fun added into it,” Marquest Haley, Royalty’s director said. “I’ve seen how it can change someone’s life.”

Haley, 30, founded Royalty, in Lancaster, in 2016. Immersed in the drill team culture as a 10th grader in Los Angeles, he noticed a void and decided to do something about it. Although he graduated from high school in Los Angeles, he attended Vista Middle School and Antelope Valley High as a ninth grader.

Joining the Black Diamonds drill team in the 10th grade was where Haley “found the love and passion for” being part of a drill team, he said during a break from practice, recently, at Tierra Bonita Park on a seasonably hot weekday afternoon.

The idea to start a drill team in Lancaster came about because Haley noticed a lack of positivity in the news cycle.

“I looked up the news and I started praying,” he said. “I was like, there’s so many kids getting killed, so many people getting pregnant. I spoke to my mom and said, ‘Mom, I think I have to start a drill team to try and save these kids.’”

From hatching the idea in October 2016 to making it happen took only a few months.

“I was passing out flyers,” Haley recalls, and around January 2017, “Had my first town hall meeting in Lancaster on the West side.”

Interest from the African American community was strong in the beginning and hasn’t waned since.

“I’ve been having a lot of kids, drummers and we’ve been performing non-stop,” Haley said.

The participants are broken up into divisions, which includes Pee-Wees, Juniors, Seniors and an Adult Squad. The youngest is six years old and the oldest is 52. There are between 50 and 60 members total, as people “join every month and come and go, take a break and come back,” Haley said.

There is a registration fee to enroll and monthly dues, he said. Besides a winter break, the Royalty Drill Team and drum squad program runs all year long.  

In addition to participating in parades in Palmdale and Lancaster, Haley’s team has performed in parades in Lompoc, Pasadena and Las Vegas. He has plans to get Royalty to San Francisco, as well as Kansas and Alabama, in the near future.

For now, his calendar surely has July 20 circled. That’s the date of the upcoming showcase at Cole Middle School, which will feature drill teams from the greater L.A. area, as well as Las Vegas. The entire Royalty team and the drum squad will perform during the competition’s halftime.

Briasia Moore, 6, who’s been with Royalty for about a year, said she enjoys the drill team experience.

“We practice and we wake up early to go to competitions,” she said.

MJ Polk, 14, a student at Palmdale High School, is the drumline captain, while his sister is the drill team’s captain.

“My mom signed me up,” he said. “I started almost at the beginning.”

For Polk, it’s all about the percussion.  

“It’s hard to carry that drum during parades, but I just like hitting the drums.”

Haley has ambition to keep taking the Royalty Drill Team to the next level, including having them audition for NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” in Pasadena.

“We didn’t make it to (national television) but we’ll make it next year,” he said.

In the meantime, don’t miss out on Royalty’s July 20 event in Lancaster.

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