- Associated Press - Saturday, December 19, 2015

LAKELAND, Fla. (AP) - Since his days in middle school, Raeshaun Potts has fantasized about stepping out with a marching band.

Even though a birth defect left him with two prosthetic legs, he remained undaunted in his determination to stand shoulder to shoulder with his fellow musicians.

And he has done just that.

At Bartow’s 25th annual Christmas parade earlier this month, Potts stood with the trumpet section and marched along Broadway Avenue to Main Street downtown.

“It’s just fun, with all those people waving at you,” he said. “Marching is my favorite part of being in the band. It gives me hope that I can achieve my dreams.”

Music, he said, transports him to tranquil places in his mind.

“It puts me on an imaginary journey to wonderland.”

Jon Eckman, director of Bartow High School’s band program, said Potts’ dedication is unwavering.

“The thing that’s inspiring to me about Raeshaun is he’s not afraid to try anything,” he said. “He has such a positive attitude and he’s never down about anything. I’d like to have 150 Raeshauns if I could.”

Potts’ love of music began in the sixth grade, when he took up the trumpet after the drums didn’t work out.

“My band director suggested the trumpet,” he said. “I liked it.”

His birth defect has left Potts with only a thumb and forefinger on his right hand, but he’s still able to maneuver a trumpet. He uses his right hand to grip the instrument while his left hand works the instrument’s three valves.

“It’s got a nice sound, and it’s easier for me to play,” he said.

Janice Dawson, his grandmother and guardian, has been able to cheer him on.

“He was born with a bone deficiency, and he had no knees or shin bones,” she said. “But he’s always been independent, and has always wanted to do things on his own.”

His great-aunt, Catherine Kelly, also of Bartow, echoed her sister’s assessment.

“He will try everything, from riding a bicycle to playing basketball,” she said. “He doesn’t let those legs stop him from doing what he wants to do. If somebody tells him he can’t do something, he’s going to prove them wrong. He’s not going to let anything stop him.”

Now a freshman at Bartow High School, Potts, 15, finds himself surrounded by musicians who are as committed to his success as he is.

“It’s cool to see him put so much effort into it,” said Julian Grubb, 17, drum major for Bartow’s band. “On the field, when we’re having a hard day and it’s hot, or Mr. Eckman is pushing us to the next level, it’s good for other people to see how hard Raeshaun is pushing. He’s an inspiration to all of us. We all realize we can do this - we can do it together.”

Potts has never missed a practice, said Antonio Glenn, 17, the band’s trumpet section leader.

“He’s one of the most dedicated musicians I’ve ever seen in a band,” he said. “Marching band is very physically demanding. It’s pretty much a sport, and it’s nice to see someone like Raeshaun, who’s as dedicated as he is. If everyone was like him, we’d probably have a much better marching band.”

Since Potts’ prosthetic legs extend above the knee, he’s limited in his ability to perform the maneuvers in most halftime shows, Eckman said.

“There’s a lot of pivoting and marching backward, and that’s really difficult for Raeshaun,” he said. “He stands on the sidelines for most of the show, but there are times when the band does a standstill, and he walks out on the field and plays with them.”

Potts’ prosthetics also affect his balance, evidenced by the solders and dents in his trumpet.

“He’s fallen several times and broken his trumpet,” Eckman said, “but we just solder it back together and he goes back in.”

And his fellow band members welcome him each time.

“It’s awesome,” he said. “If I need help, they help me. If I fall down, they’re there to pick me up. They make me feel important, and I know I’m not alone, and there are people around me that care about me and will help me with anything.”

During football season, they carried Potts into the stands so he could sit with the band, and carried him back down when it was time to take the field, Eckman said.

The December parade marked the second for Potts, who marched the same route in Bartow’s Halloween parade in October.

“I wasn’t expecting him to march in that parade,” Eckman said, “but I looked back and there he was. He said he wanted to do it, and he did. I was blown away.”

Potts fell one time along the 2.3-mile route.

“I saw a cluster of kids come together, then Raeshaun came back up, and the kids went back to their places and kept on marching,” Eckman said.

Eckman said he and the band want to spearhead an effort to get better prosthetics for Potts, ones that would allow him more movement.

“He deserves it,” Eckman said. “We want to get him something that’s great so he can come be out on the field. Someday, I want to see him marching on that field, and marching the whole show.”

___

Information from: The Ledger (Lakeland, Fla.), http://www.theledger.com

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