The Panther band has returned from their ‘trip of a lifetime’. Their main purpose was to march in the world’s largest St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City on March 17. The Panthers were the only high school band from west of the Mississippi River. There was magic in the air for the entire trip, starting with an NBC Bay Area news crew interviewing the band at the San Francisco International Airport, prior to departing for the East Coast on a plane brimming with Panthers and their boosters.
It took a year of , personal fundraising and energy to undertake a trip of this magnitude. Fourteen adults committed to six days of accompanying 69 band students on their trans-continental journey. The band director, Mr. Patrick Martin drove the instruments across the country. For the band and the chaperones, there was little sleep with all the history and culture to witness in the days surrounding the actual parade. Numerous band families traveled to New York on their own and met up with relatives from around the United States who couldn’t stay away from this event.
Everything quintessential and symbolic about New York City was on the itinerary, planned with superb skill by booster parent and trip coordinator, Desiree Endert. In addition, Mrs. Janice Adams, the Superintendent of the school district, also travelled on her own time and her own dime to view the parade in person, and was greeted warmly when she met up with the band during their Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island tour.
Families and friends who remained in Benicia benefitted from the frequent updates via text, Facebook and email. It allowed this experience to stretch across three thousand miles to Benicia and throughout the country where it embraced the entire band family, as each moment unfolded.
Unfortunately, the New York NBC live webcast signed off at almost the precise moment the Panther Band came into view. But the internet was mined quite thoroughly and several videos and photos were found. One New York based photographer, who had no previous connection with the band said, “From the marching bands I was able to see, Benicia High School was one of the most enjoyable ones to watch.”
As the kids arrived back at the high school Sunday night after 10pm, I experienced the excitement of seeing the two buses coming off the freeway, watching as proud parents ran out of their cars, under the stars, to enfold their travelers into waiting embraces. It was a wonderful homecoming.
Chaperone Kim Hicks, had much to say about her trip experience. “It was an experience of awe,” said Hicks. “It was so long in coming and came off so well. The kids just kept going. They were polite to everyone and did everything they were told. They were reverent at the 9/11 memorial.”
On parade day, when it seemed the whole world came to New York City, the band was under intense pressure to quickly dismount the bus, grab their instruments and put their cases back, as the throng of humanity and vehicles was in a constant state of forward motion. The band is used to tight deadlines and urgency, as they joined the 137,000 other marchers in the parade which lasted for over six hours.
“This trip cannot be described any better than a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Debbie Flores, another selfless booster. “From the moment we started out with the NBC News crew greeting us at the airport, we knew we were setting out on an adventure; an experience to be remembered for the rest of our lives.”
“Two events stand out in my mind,” said Flores. “The first was the parade itself. The energy of the City, buses slowly creeping their way through swarms of green-clad people, all made for an awe-inspiring experience, with the reality that we, yes we, were going to be a part of this.”
After dropping the kids off on Madison Avenue, the chaperones remained on the buses watching for a few minutes while crowds passed by, snapping photos.
“As we watched the band stoically begin their single-file procession down Madison Avenue, admittedly while checking our Facebook pages and seeing exclamations such as ‘Benicia is watching!’ and ‘we are so proud of you,’ the mama bears lost it,” said Flores. “Tears flowed among us and it was a humble feeling. I am always humbled by witnessing things so much greater than myself.”
“Every moment was a gift, from then until we greeted our kids at the end of the route, where we found them surrounded by paparazzi and flashing bulbs,” said Flores. “I will say that not only witnessing our own kids participating, but feeling the incredible energy of the parade itself will forever be in my heart. The joy and hope and pride that New York displayed was more than touching. It seems since 9/11, our hearts have a greater capacity for gratitude. This was evident among the crowd and every parade participant who passed me.”
“The second event was the dinner cruise around Manhattan after the parade – a breathtaking party atmosphere,” said Flores. “During our cruise, we passed very close to Lady Liberty. The DJ’s announced they would quiet the dance music so that everyone could enjoy the sight and take pictures. The DJ instead played Lee Greenwood’s Proud to be An American. The opening lines of that song, ‘If tomorrow all the things were gone, I’d worked for all my life, and I had to start again, with just my children and my wife…’ softly filled the air.”
“The lump of gratitude in my throat was huge,” said Flores. “I stood and watched Lady Liberty, listened to the kids in the background, and felt at that moment all was right in our ever-changing world. The song was succeeded by Whitney Houston’s Star Spangled Banner, with the kids being gathered on the dance floor singing and raising their arms in unison. I believe right about then the tear rolled down my cheek for countless reasons: all of which were either behind me singing their hearts out, or in
front of me raising her torch with dignity and honor.”