Marching band prevails on flights to L.A.
The Downingtown High School Blue & Gold Marching Band was having none of it. When the season's first snowstorm forced the cancellation of two of the band's flights to Southern California, the possibility that the 350 student musicians wouldn't be able to march in the Rose Parade on New Year's Day was simply unacceptable.
The Downingtown High School Blue & Gold Marching Band was having none of it.
When the season's first snowstorm forced the cancellation of two of the band's flights to Southern California, the possibility that the 350 student musicians wouldn't be able to march in the Rose Parade on New Year's Day was simply unacceptable.
As parade official Bill Flinn - a former Philadelphian - described it, that's when "Pennsylvania tenacity" kicked in.
Band officials desperately sought other ways to get to the West Coast while simultaneously pleading their case to local, state, and federal government officials. Their staffers, in turn, worked the phones. One even sought advice from the National Guard.
In the end, Continental Airlines, the band's original carrier, came through. By 8 p.m. Tuesday, most of the band's 700 musicians, band staff, family, and friends were either in L.A. or on their way. Only 10 parents and supporters had not yet secured tickets to L.A.
"A harrowing 12 hours" is how band codirector Doug Bennett described it
The outcome, however, was thrilling to the band and its supporters.
"At first, I was really nervous and afraid," said drummer Audrey Sinclair, 14, who is in the band with his 16-year-old brother, Jeremy, a baritone horn. "But now, the excitement is building, and I know it's going to be amazing."
The award-winning ensemble, made up of students from Downingtown's East and West campuses, was picked in the fall of 2009 to be one of 12 out-of-state bands to march in the parade.
"This is the biggest honor for a band," said Walter Kottmeyer, the trip coordinator and a former principal of the school. "I equate it to the NBA championship or the Super Bowl."
Their selection triggered more than a year of preparation. The price tag was about $500,000 to send the band, its staff, and supporters to Los Angeles for a seven-day trip.
Students were required to complete 20 hours of community service before they could qualify for a stipend to help pay for their trip.
The band held garage sales, bingo nights, dances, silent auctions, and bowling parties to raise money. It solicited corporate donations. In the end, the band raised about $225,000 for the trip. Families covered the rest, at a cost of about $800 per student.
Band members rehearsed for the last time about a week ago, Kottmeyer said, just before he shipped their instruments on a truck to L.A.
The group was booked on nine flights leaving from three airports and destined for three hotels in the L.A. area. Their schedule includes playing at a band fest on Wednesday, Disneyland on Thursday, and marching in the parade on Saturday.
But band officials got the word Monday afternoon that two of the flights on Continental, scheduled to transport about one-half of the band out of Newark Liberty International Airport, were canceled.
Initially, band officials were told that the airline wouldn't be able to reschedule the group until Saturday, the day they were due to march in the parade, said Brent Lewis, the band's codirector.
Among the band members, panic set in. Students posted their outrage on Facebook. A meeting was scheduled for Monday night at Downingtown High School East in Exton. By then, band officials had begun looking for alternatives, calling the media and phoning politicians.
U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach, Gov. Rendell, State Sen. Andy Dinniman, State Rep. Curt Schroder, and school district solicitor James E. McErlane all got involved, said Lawrence J. Mussoline, the district's superintendent.
Even Flinn, a former Philadelphian and chief operating officer of the Tournament of Roses Association, which produces the parade, made a few phone calls.
For band parent Nancy Jones, the chaos was even more personal. Her son Arius, a 16-year-old baritone horn player, was on a canceled flight; Sterling, her 14-year-old and a tenor saxophone player, was on a flight still scheduled to take off.
"It was disbelief," Jones said.
It bordered on the ridiculous for Audrey and Jeremy Sinclair. They were on a canceled flight, but their parents were booked on one that was leaving.
Tuesday morning, band members and supporters whose flights hadn't been canceled began gathering at the school with suitcases and backpacks as band officials continued looking for a solution.
Finally, about midmorning, word came that Continental was going to fly the band members whose flights had been canceled to Southern California.
Christen David, a spokesperson for the airline, said the carrier added a plane to its schedule to accommodate the band.
"We were thrilled to be able to help out the band," David said. "We know they worked really hard and wish them luck in their performance."
About noon, band officials contacted all students scheduled to fly on the canceled flights and told them to report to the school. They boarded school buses at about 2:30 p.m. and left for Newark.
"It was scary at first," said Arius Jones, "but now it's going to be an excitement-filled event."