The nation’s birthday hasn’t even happened yet this year, but a group of musically inclined students are already looking to next year’s Independence Day celebrations that could take them a long way from home.
The Newton High School band was nominated by Congressman Hank Johnson to perform in the National Independence Day Parade in Washington D.C. next summer.
Jason Smith, Newton High’s band director, said he and his students still have to apply for a spot in the parade but that the prestigious nomination means they are “pretty much guaranteed a spot.”
“This kind of thing doesn’t come too often,” Smith said. “The tradition and pageantry of this parade is unparalleled, and we are thrilled about this opportunity.”
The band, which performed at the 2011 Allstate Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, now has to raise around $55,000 to make the three-day-two-night trip happen. Funding would cover the charter bus, meals, hotel rooms and any sightseeing or events the 80 students and 10 chaperones do while in the Capitol.
“There’s so much to do in Washington D.C. We want to try to cover everything we can to make sure the kids get an educational experience out of it as well,” Smith said.
Smith, who is about to begin his sixth year as band director/teacher at Newton High and his 10th year of teaching band, said the fundraising deadline is in March. Everyone planning to go can either pay $600 out of pocket or raise money.
Jamal Ridgel, an incoming senior and one of the three drum majors in the band, said he will be willing to help raise money for the trip.
“We finally get to go on this big trip we’ve been wanting to go on,” Ridgel said. “To get our band back on the map, we’re gonna do whatever it takes.”
He said he is looking forward to seeing the Lincoln Memorial on top of getting to play in the parade.
“People have always downed our program since maybe 2011,” Ridgel said. “Everyone told us Newton was never going to be the same. Ever since my first year it’s been my goal to prove everybody wrong.”
Congressman Johnson said the 435 state representatives were allotted a certain number of nominations for bands to march in the parade. Johnson was given four nominations. Newton High’s band was among the narrowed-down nominations chosen to appear at the Capitol.
“That’s a tribute to the Newton High School, the band, the director, the school, the administration, the Board of Education and the residents of Newton County,” Johnson said. “Everybody doesn’t get a chance to do this.”
Johnson said he hopes the band can raise money quickly and easily so the students can focus on performing and study their craft.
“It’s spotlighting the school,” Johnson said, “and the whole county.