The Portsmouth High School marching band strutted its stuff in front of President Barack Obama Monday night.
During the president’s second inaugural parade, the band played a medley of patriotic songs including “You’re a Grand Old Flag” while passing by the glass-covered, heated observation booth that held the president, First Lady Michelle Obama, their children Sasha and Malia, Vice President Joe Biden and other dignitaries.
The 160-member band was one of only 10 high school units in the country selected for the honor.
“It wouldn’t be a parade without these guys,” said the parade announcer as band members marched down Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the president.
The announcer went on to say that 32 years earlier, the PHS band appeared in President Ronald Reagan’s first inaugural parade. Several PHS band students have parents who marched in the 1981 procession.
Kyle Wentzel, a junior with the band, said it was exciting to catch a glimpse of the president.
“It was kind of cool watching him as we went by,” said Kyle, relaxing in a hotel room a few hours after the parade. “He was waving and he seemed to be really enjoying himself.”
In 1981, television coverage broke away from the PHS band to focus on developing news regarding the Iran hostage crisis. This time around, however, relatives and friends back home had plenty of opportunities to watch students march.
Although CNN broke to a commercial right before the band made its appearance, a smaller video feed was used in the top left-hand corner of the screen. C-SPAN featured the band’s appearance uninterrupted, and the parade was also streamed live over the internet on several websites.
For the PHS band, there was a lot of “hurry up and wait” on Monday.
“The kids started their day at 11:30 at the Pentagon, where we went through a thorough security check and received our individual credentials that allowed us access to the parade route. They stepped off to join the parade around 4 p.m. at the Capitol building,” said PHS Principal Bob Littlefield in an e-mailed message to parents. Mr. Littlefield marched alongside the PHS musicians, color guard and dance team.
“It was longer (of a wait) than I thought it would be, but it wasn’t that cold,” said Kyle, adding that the parade itself was only about a mile and a half long.
The band left late Sunday morning for the nine-hour bus ride to D.C. and is expected to return to Portsmouth Tuesday evening. It was a bare-bones trip with little time for sightseeing.
“We drove by some monuments, but that was it. It’s really the only downside,” said Kyle.
Of course, taking in the sights pales in comparison to marching for a president.
“I cannot imagine a prouder moment as a principal than to see the president and vice president of the United States on their feet, clapping in time to the music performed by our students,” said Mr. Littlefield. “Thanks to all the members of our community who supported this effort. Your kids made Portsmouth proud today.”
Kyle said his fellow students certainly appreciated the magnitude of the event.
“It’s definitely something that we’ll remember for the rest of our lives,” he said.
To watch a C-SPAN video of the PHS band’s appearance, click here or watch the above video.