- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 20, 2005

Members of the Ballou High School Marching Band last year were washing cars and baking cookies to raise money to showcase their talent in a national competition. They were rewarded today with a spot in the presidential inaugural parade, in which they will pay tribute to U.S. troops in Iraq.

“I’m very proud of this band,” said band member Anna Myers. “We stuck together. We lifted each other up when times were tough, and it all came together. It’s not every day that you have an opportunity to perform for the president.”

Students at Ballou, in one of Washington’s poorest neighborhoods, have indeed gone through some tough times.

Last February, James Richardson, a student, was fatally shot by a classmate inside the school and another student, Timothy Hamilton, was found dead with multiple gunshots in April. D.C. officials closed the school in October 2003 after a student took mercury from a science lab and with classmates used it to contaminate the building.

“To be a part of this band with all the trouble we went through last year — this is great,” said Anna, 17.

The 80-member Marching Knights band earned the gig in today’s parade after placing second in November in the Home Depot High School Battle of the Bands in Carson, Calif.

Beyond the many hours spent practicing for the competition, band members also devoted much of their free time to trying to raise money needed to make the trip to California. Corporate sponsors pitched in with more than $70,000.

Their efforts caught the attention of D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who asked President Bush to include the band in the inauguration festivities.

“This is the first time the school has been invited to the inaugural parade, and we’re extremely proud and honored to represent Ballou and Washington, D.C.,” said Darrell Watson, the band director and a 1988 Ballou graduate.

Mr. Watson said Ballou is a “show band,” so parade watchers can expect an energetic marching style with lots of dancing and choreography.

The band — complete with banner carriers, flag girls and dance girls — will perform their own rendition of Julia W. Howe’s 1861 “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” as a tribute to the U.S. troops.

“We wanted to do something to let our troops overseas know that we appreciate them,” Mr. Watson said. “We haven’t forgotten them, and they are truly in our hearts, and we hope they can come home soon.”

They also expect to play “Sunshine” by Coko; “Lose My Breath” by Destiny’s Child and “Poison” by Bell Biv Devoe.

Mr. Watson said “Sunshine” represents Ballou’s coming out of the darkness.

“I felt it was time the school had some light shed upon it,” he said. “We’re coming out of the dark, and hopefully never going back, if we can help it.”

He said the band’s success had given members more confidence, which becomes clear in such subtle ways as how they carry themselves and what they talk about.

“This time last year things, were so different,” Mr. Watson said.

Still, he said their success means nothing unless they also do well in the classrooms.

“In the movie ‘Drumline,’ the band’s motto was ‘One band, one sound,’” Mr. Watson said. “The Marching Knights’ motto is ‘Education with a serious beat.’ ”

Devette Phillips, a 17-year-old senior and captain of the band’s dance girls, yesterday could hardly contain her pride and excitement.

“We’re so excited to be in the president’s parade,” she said, rehearsing in her uniform of a white dress emblazoned with gold sequins on the bodice. “It was a shock when we first learned about the invitation to perform. We’ve been practicing every day, sweating and working hard.”

Devette will attend Hampton University in the fall and plans to major in communications.

“Although I’m not Republican, this is a great experience to be in the inaugural parade, and it helps the school’s reputation,” she said. “A lot of awful things happened last year, and we thank God for the opportunity to have things turn around.”

Nikia Garner, a junior and captain of the flag girls, said she and her team will bring up the rear in the parade.

“Whew, it’s going to be cold, but I’m excited that Ballou is a part of this,” said Nikia, 16. “My personal excitement isn’t important. It’s about the school. Right now, Ballou is getting some positive press — a school in Southeast.”

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