The marching bands at Portal Middle High School, Southeast Bulloch High and Statesboro High step into the school year with something to look forward to, performing together while marching down Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C., in April.
When the bands went into the 12-hour Band Camp March-a-thon at their schools July 20, they still didn't have the sought-after parade invitation. But they were already raising money toward the projected $100,000 cost of the trip and accommodations.
The invitation for the combined Bulloch Blues Marching Band to perform in the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade arrived the next day, said Statesboro Marching Blue Devils Director Lee Collins. The parade is Saturday, April 14.
"It's a very highly competitive application process to get into," Collins said. "We were chosen over a couple of other bands in Georgia. I know of a band that applied about two weeks after we did, or around the same time, and they are on a waiting list right now."
This will be the Bulloch Blues' second parade with national status, capping the cooperative band's third year of existence, which has just begun.
Portal Pride Marching Band Director John Gleissner, Southeast Bulloch Swarm Director Matt Olsen and Collins bring their schools' distinctive bands together as the Bulloch Blues for shared experiences and to participate in parades.
The Bulloch Blues performed in the Florida Citrus Parade in Orlando in late December 2015, the united band's only out-of-state trip until now. Collins had accompanied the Statesboro High School Marching Band to Washington for the National Independence Day Parade in 2012, but that was before the Bulloch Blues.
One rationale behind the combined band is that it can offer more marchers and a bigger battery of horns and percussion for a high-profile parade. For example, Statesboro High's band has about 80 members this year, but together, the Bulloch Blues has 200.
Hope to raise $50K
If even 180 take the Washington trip, the rough cost projection of $600 per band member puts the total expense over $100,000. The announced goal is for boosters and band members to collect at least half of that through fundraising efforts, reducing the cost for individual students.
The band's biggest day of fundraising so far was the Band Camp March-a-thon. Each school's band practiced steps for its 2017 football halftime show on its own campus. Each put in four hours of practice, but the event was scheduled so that for 12 straight hours, one element or another of the Bulloch Blues was rehearsing in Brooklet, Portal or Statesboro.
After students collected pledges for hours marched, the event netted a little over $4,000, reported Deborah Champion, treasurer of the Bulloch Blues Boosters and an SHS band parent.
Car wash Saturday
The Bulloch Blues' next fundraising event will be a simultaneous car wash in Statesboro and Brooklet, from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 5. Band members will be washing cars in the parking lot at I Save More Furniture on Northside Drive East in Statesboro and outside the Subway on Parker Avenue in Brooklet.
There is no set fee, but cars will be washed for donations, Champion said.
Until Aug. 31, the band also has a continuing March-a-thon campaign seeking donations through a link on its website, http://bullochbluesband.com. A clickable 99Pledges logo is at the bottom of the page. Once on the 99Pledges site, donors can designate a particular band member, enter the name of one of the band directors to designate the money to a particular school, or enter Champion's name to give to the overall effort, she said.
Another car wash is slated for Sept. 9.
The Bulloch Blues will also be working concessions at Georgia Southern University home football games and will receive a percentage of their sales for the trip, Champion said.
Band members are also expected to work at the Brooklet Peanut Festival. They may host a dunking booth, she said. She is currently looking for one in good condition.
Meanwhile, the school bands will be performing their separate shows at football halftimes.
They will probably begin practicing the Bulloch Blues parade program in late September, Collins said. The directors plan to retain three traditional tunes: "Statesboro Blues," "Georgia on My Mind" and a patriotic medley that serves as a salute to veterans, he said.
Planned parade appearances include the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair Parade in Statesboro on Oct. 16, the Savannah Veterans Day Parade on Nov. 11, the local Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade on Jan. 15, and now, Washington on April 14.
Last school year, the Bulloch Blues' season was complete with the MLK Parade. The national parade will require additional practices into the spring, Collins said.
The parade is on a Saturday but falls at the end of a school week. So the band leadership will have to make sure that a trip lasting several days doesn't interfere with testing schedules and is acceptable to the Board of Education, Collins said.
"We're doing our best to make it something that's going to be memorable for our students as well as representing Bulloch County in a positive light on a national stage," he said.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.