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Posted January 17, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Banding together: Mississippi students travel to Front Royal to march at inauguration
By Ben Orcutt -- Daily Staff Writer
FRONT ROYAL -- It's a little more than 800 miles from Petal, Miss., to Front Royal, but like most of the country, the two communities will be united on Tuesday during the inauguration of Barack Obama as the nation's 44th president.
The 160-member Petal High School marching band was selected by the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee out of 1,300 applications nationwide to participate in Tuesday's parade in Washington. Front Royal is part of the picture because the band members will spend two nights at the Northern Virginia 4-H Educational Center just south of town.
The Petal High School band is directed by 47-year-old Mike Garnand, who has been at the school for five years and in the teaching profession for 24 years.
Garnand says when he and his charges received the news they would be representing the state of Mississippi, they were excited.
"Overjoyed that we were selected based on our accomplishments and because it's probably gonna be the most attended and historic inauguration in many years, so just totally excited about that," Garnand says.
In 2007, the Panthers were selected as Mississippi High School Activities Association State 5A marching grand champions. The band has also performed in the Hollywood, Calif. Christmas Parade, which was televised nationally.
Petal High School has about 1,200 students in grades nine through 12.
Garnand says the band will leave Petal on Sunday and stay in Roanoke that night. The group is scheduled to arrive in Front Royal around noon on Monday and will stay at the 4-H Center on Monday and Tuesday night before heading back to the Magnolia State on Wednesday.
The band is chartering four buses and the travel party will number about 190, including chaperones, Garnand says.
"It's gonna be probably one of the most memorable events, not only to march through the parade, but just the overwhelming support of the town here and the state of Mississippi and even the people of Front Royal that I've talked to, so it'll be something I won't forget," he says.
The band members are equally excited about marching in the inauguration and staying at the 4-H Center.
"I think it's really great that they're gonna let us stay there and everything because we didn't really have anywhere else that we could have gone and [I'm] just looking forward to the whole trip in general," says Paige Netherton, a 15-year-old freshman who plays the flute.
Netherton says the band will play the classic, "Old Man River," as it meanders its way along the 1.5-mile parade route. She says she is especially excited about seeing President-elect Obama.
"I'm a little nervous, but we've done a lot of parades this year," she adds. "I guess we've done three so far and then one of them was in Philadelphia for the Thanksgiving Day Parade, so I'm not too nervous. I'm excited though."
Fifteen-year-old Tony Garnand is the band director's son and plays the first bass drum.
"I am very excited," the younger Garnand says. "Like this is a once in a lifetime experience and I'm just very excited to at least get to see the president and everything because I've never seen him before, except on TV."
Amanda Walker, a 16-year-old junior who plays the piccolo, is equally excited.
"I am extremely excited because we are going to be part of history," Walker says, adding that she's not nervous.
"I probably will be when we get up there, but right now I'm just too excited to be nervous," she says.
The elder Garnand says band members probably will get only a glimpse of Obama as they pass the reviewing stand.
"Well, I guess it would have to be a quick glance," he says. "I know you can't turn the band toward the president or anything as you go by. I'm a little stressed about it because it's a high [security] situation, going up there and getting those kids through security and doing all that stuff."
Garnand says he and three of the band's directors will also march as the Petal High School band represents the entire state of Mississippi.
"We'll be representing them proudly," he adds.
Petal Mayor Carl L. Scott, who was elected in July 2005, says the city of some 14,000 residents is appreciative of the historic opportunity the high school band has been afforded.
"We are absolutely delighted that our band got chosen to participate in the inauguration and yes, it's quite an honor for our kids and for every kid in the state of Mississippi," Scott says.
The band's invitation to play in the presidential inauguration is an added boost to a community that was hit hard by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, Scott adds.
"Our town was pretty much in a state of destruction," he says. "We weren't as bad as some of the coastal communities. We had 4,000 homes at that time and 90 percent of those were either damaged or destroyed. Our community really rallied and I think probably the last two years we have been on the growing phase, so our community, it's really stuck together. You just can't say enough of our people here in Petal."
Scott says there are signs all over the city honoring the band on its achievement. He says support to help the band raise the $68,000 to make the trip to Washington has been statewide.
"There's always some kind of congratulatory thing going on for our band," Scott says. "Our community's out supporting 'em. We've actually had a lot of statewide support in raising the funds for the band to be able to go the inauguration, and like I said, I really want you to thank everybody in your community for being the host community for our kids."
Stephanie Fretwell, president of the Linden Rotary Club, says her organization is the host group for the Petal High School band while they're in Warren County. Fretwell says she found out from her sister, Rachel Pierce, who lives in Hattiesburg, Miss., and who works with Cissy Robertson, the head of fundraising for the Petal High School band boosters, that the band needed a place to stay.
Fretwell says Front Royal Tourism Director Jennifer Keck suggested the 4-H Center "and fortunately, they had availability."
The 4-H Center gave the band a good rate, Fretwell says.
Fretwell is excited for the Petal High School band members.
Fretwell has arranged a welcoming ceremony for the band at 1 p.m. on Monday in the auditorium of Skyline High School, which otherwise is closed in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
"I've invited Mayor Tewalt to come and we've also put out the word to the rest of the town council and the board of supervisors," Fretwell says of the ceremony that will be open to the public, as well as a band practice session following the ceremony on the Skyline football field.
Fretwell is putting together goodie bags for each band member courtesy of local individuals and businesses. Although Petal High School band members won't have the opportunity for much local sightseeing, Fretwell and others are hoping to make their stay one they won't forget.
"We're hoping that we give them enough of a welcome that they go home and say, 'You know, this is some place I'd like to go back to mom and dad,'" Fretwell says. "It's our opportunity to be a part of the inauguration."
*Contact Ben Orcutt at firstname.lastname@example.org
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