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Mitchell Starnes in the Independent Tribune

Published:

December 30, 2008

Hickory Ridge High School students will ring in the New Year in a variety of ways, but one group of about 45 will have a particularly exciting story to tell when they return to class.

The members of the high school's Blue Regiment Marching Band will perform as part of the New Year's Day Parade in London.

"We're performing for a street audience of 500,000 people and a worldwide television audience of over 200 million," said band director Chris White. "It's a pretty big deal."

White, who marched in the parade with a different group in 2003, said when he took the job at Hickory Ridge, he thought a trip like this would help unify the school's band.

"There were kids coming in from Central and (Jay M.) Robinson, and now three different middle schools," he said. "I wanted to do something to bring us together as Hickory Ridge."

To help promote that sense of unity, the group will spend eight days touring and enjoying London, where, White said, educational opportunities abound.

For some, like senior Dillon Kranz, the experience of getting to London will be new and different all its own.

"I've never been on a plane in my life," he said. "For us to go and play in London is pretty amazing. I never thought I'd be in a band good enough to do that."

Planning and fundraising for the trip has been nearly a year in the making.

The cost for each person to make the eight-day trip is about $2,600, White said. With 45 students and another 35 parents and chaperones, the total cost of the trip was nearly $200,000.

"The amount of community support was admirable," White said. "I think people generally helped us when they could."

But perhaps the most touching show of support wasn't a monetary donation, but a special recognition by the Harrisburg Town Council.

Earlier this month, the council voted to proclaim Jan. 1, 2009 "Blue Regiment Day" in Harrisburg and presented White with wo keys to the city, which will travel with the group and be presented to officials in London.

Mayor Tim Hagler was on hand at the school Sunday — along with dozens of parents and supporters — to wish the group well.

"Seize the day," Hagler told the students, as music by the iconic English band The Beatles played in the background. "This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. We're proud of you and we want you to represent us well."

During the trip, students will tour London, including visits to Hampton Court, Oxford University and Windsor Castle.

"As a teacher, it's great to see students experience these kinds of things and be able to know I had a small part in that," White said. "It's really why we get into teaching. On this big of a stage, it's really exciting."

Senior drum major, Meri Jenkins said it's an exciting opportunity to put the Blue Regiment in the worldwide spotlight.

"There's just so much stuff that's going to be new," she said. "It's very exciting.

"I think it's a great opportunity to show how music can help you. This shows that you can travel and do anything you want if you stick to it. I'm sure this will be incentive for people to get involved in band — big incentive."

FORD OWNERS ASSOCIATION OF THE CAROLINAS