Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 31, 2013

The strong sound of drums echoes over the empty parking lot. It’s joined by the brass, the woodwinds. Holding their instruments steady, some students march in place. Drum major Nick Barlowe conducts from a step ladder. Jesse C. Carson High School’s marching band is practicing for their big day.

Before the 2012-2013 school year ended, the band received word they’d been nominated to participate in the 2014 National Memorial Day Parade in Washington, D.C. by Congressman Richard Hudson — and they’d been accepted.

But the hard work is just beginning. In order to attend, the band needs to raise approximately $60,000.

Started in 2005 by the American Veteran’s Center, the National Memorial Day Parade honors veterans and remembers those who died serving their country. It has a live crowd in the hundreds of thousands, and is nationally televised and broadcast to troops overseas. It features marching bands, floats and a veteran’s march. And Carson’s marching band is the only one in North Carolina invited to participate.

“We’ve been invited to represent the state of North Carolina, not just Carson High School or China Grove,” Band Director Jeffrey Street said.

The band plans to leave May 23 and spend the days before the May 27 parade engaged in education-oriented sightseeing. They’ve even been invited to participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. That’s a three-day stay in the capitol — and while the band has been invited to play, it’s up to them to raise the money to get there.

Street said the bill — food, transportation, sight-seeing, everything — comes out to about $531 per student.

So far, Street said, there has been a great response from students’ friends and family as well as from local businesses and corporations. But they still have a long way to go.

Street has been the band director at Carson since the school opened in 2006. Back then, he said, the band only had 29 members. Now it has over 120 — nearly 12 percent of the student body. Street thinks it’s vital every student is able to attend.

“Opportunities like this don’t come along very often,” he said.

The students are just as excited as Street is and have been preparing for this since they heard the news in the spring. Some, like senior Nick Barlowe, found out early. Others, like junior Ethan Goss and senior Kayla Baker, heard the rumors first. Baker said those rumors were eventually confirmed on the band’s Twitter account.

Since then, she said, the work has kicked up and practices have become more intense.

“A lot of people have stepped up,” senior Chastity Boyles said. She said many players have shown tremendous improvement and that she considers this the band’s best year so far.

“There’s not a better group of kids to go,” Barlowe said.