The small but mighty Gardner Area (Marching Panthers) Band marched in the national Memorial Day Parade, May 29, in Washington D.C.
The trip, culminating a year of planning and fund-raising, included the 40 band members taking in the educational and historical sights at the nation’s capital.
“It was hot, in the 90s,” said band director Michael Leone. “The kids were extremely well-behaved, very respectful.”
When the audience and parade had to stop to bow heads in silence, every member of the band bowed their heads and stayed quiet, Leone added.
“We did not have one kid drop out,” due to heat exhaustion, he said.
Leone reported most of the bands from other parts of the country had members succumb to the heat.
Plus the 10-block parade in the capital was a longer parade than he had anticipated.
“Blocks in D.C. are a lot longer than in Gardner,” Leone said.
The parade was televised, and Leone, marching along the route with the band, had left his cell phone on at first.
He said his cell phone “exploded” with phone texts, saying “I see ya, I see ya” and texts of a similar nature. He had to shut the cell phone off so it would not interfere with his duties during the parade. Obviously folks at home were excited to see the band live on television, he said.
Back stage after the parade, many visitors who had no idea who the children were, asked to have their picture taken with band members.
“They felt like celebrities,” Leone said.
He said the route took the band right past the White House, and when the kids knew they were on camera, they “were really pumped up about it, and played hard.”
The band, made up of music students from South Wilmington Grade School, Braceville Elementary, Gardner Grade School and Gardner-South Wilmington High School, has students in grades five through 12.
To make the trip to Washington D.C., the community raised $25,000 to send the students via charter bus. Parents and teachers paid their own way, with a total group from the GSW area of 111 people.
In addition to marching in the televised parade, students saw such sights as the Smithsonian Institute, the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and Arlington National Cemetery.
He believes the experience was a once-in-a-lifetime trip for many of the band members.
He said he heard comments from parents about how well organized the trip was, and said he has been “for the past year, you’re living this” trip as far as fund-raising, organizing, logistics, and practicing.
The round trip lasted from Friday, May 26 to Tuesday, May 30.
Leone is thinking the band may take a trip like this every two years. But the band is growing. The enrollment for the band for the 2017-18 school year is 60, he said.
He believes this trip may have inspired new music students to join.