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Air Academy High marching band's 200 students prepare to perform in the Rose Parade

December 21, 2017 Updated: December 22, 2017 at 1:39 pm
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The Air Academy Marching Band performs during the annual Veterans Day Parade in downtown Colorado Springs Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017. The marching band will perform in the Rose Parade Jan. 1, 2018, in Pasadena, Calif.

The swagger in the hallways at Air Academy High School didn't come from the football players and cheerleaders this semester. It was the marching band's turn to be on the receiving end of the back slapping and fist pumping.

"We'll see you next year - on TV," was a familiar farewell to the 200 band members when school let out in mid-December for the holidays.

The Air Academy Kadet Marching Band will perform in the New Year's Day Rose Parade in Pasadena, Calif.

It's the only high school band in the Pikes Peak region ever to be invited to participate in the nationally televised festival of flowers, music and sports that has been a tradition for more than a century. And, it will be a repeat performance. Air Academy students also marched in the 1992 Rose Parade.

The excitement rivals that of the last day of school.

"Oh, yeah. We're ready," said 18-year-old Rita Nelson, a drum major who will graduate from Air Academy in May. "Everyone is so passionate and has spent so much time and effort."

For the past year, the Kadets have set their sights on the Rose Parade, considered the creme de la creme event for marching bands.

"It's an amazing opportunity; it's so big," Nelson said, adding that she's watched it on TV every year. "It's one of those things where you're not going to know how huge and wonderful it is until you're there, performing."

Band director Stoney Black knows just how great it's going to be. After his school received the Rose Parade invitation last spring, he attended the 2017 extravaganza to get a feel for the route and what is involved.

"I understand why people say it's on their bucket list," he said.

Just thinking about the trip gives Stoney's wife, Melony Black, chills.

"I'm thrilled that my son's final high school band experience is something as monumental as the Rose Parade," she said.

The couple are parents of senior mellophone player Tyler Black.

The students and many parents leave Wednesday for California. Kids are both excited and nervous, said Christie Franzen, a band parent volunteer and mother of senior Jack Franzen, a trombone player, and freshman Emma Franzen, in the mellophone section.

"They're excited to be a part of this amazing experience and nervous about marching for so many miles," she said. "There are a lot of kids who now wish they had chosen the clarinet instead of, say, a baritone."

The parade route stretches for 5½ miles, and students will perform two sets to energize the crowd, including the Air Force Song, and New Year's celebratory tunes Applause and Hand Clap.

The Air Academy band - one of the largest in Colorado with about 200 members this year - also gets a runner-up performance at Disneyland in the days leading up to Jan. 1 and will do a Disney medley.

"We know this is a huge national stage," said Paige Langum, a senior who played flute for the first three years of her band career and now marches as a drum major. "We're excited to represent the school, our community and state."

The band's 60th season ended Oct. 29, when the Air Academy Kadets reclaimed the Division 4A state championship after losing out to Liberty High, also in D-20, last year.

This year's victory marked Air Academy's 12th state championship - more than any other 4A band in Colorado.

Members have taken up their instruments once again, practicing every day for 1½ hours during school and marching in the Veterans Day Parade in downtown Colorado Springs and the Colorado State Fair Parade in Pueblo as run-throughs for the Rose Parade.

Rehearsals at school, which is on the base of the Air Force Academy, have been held below the flight pattern, which gliders, tow planes and the Thunderbirds traverse.

Black said practices started with half a mile and worked up to 3½ miles.

"We've had all the songs memorized for a while and are trying to get up our energy and play as well as we can," said 17-year-old Langum.

The community has been behind the effort, Black said. Fundraisers, such as selling mattresses, installing American flags on holidays and selling concessions at events, brought in more than $210,000 - more than double what was raised in the past.

"We were blown away by the support," he said.

The money helped purchase new uniforms and new percussion instruments and brass instruments, and help defray travel expenses.

Black said beyond bragging rights, marching in the Rose Parade constitutes a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

"This is a real unique experience," he said. "There's such a short list of schools from Colorado that have gone. It's going to be incredible and memorable. A defining high school moment."

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