Excited chatter roars throughout the Eagle Pride band room as 250 band members – from sousaphonists to piccolo players – fill the hall.
Bedecked in brand new maroon jackets with the Niceville Eagle Pride band logo, they are all in a uniform three days before their big march through Pasadena.
Near the rafters of the band building – above the 250 students and more than 100 chaperones, staff, faculty, and family members (even two Niceville police officers) – hang banners from marches past. Orange bowl banners from the late eighties and a medallion from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in 2012 each tell their own story. A story of excellence and accomplishment.
Drum Major Quinnlyn Holsinger believes her band is ready to march in an unforgettable performance to represent the city of Niceville at the parade.
“I think people are starting to get more locked in,” Holsinger said, “They’ve realized that we are going to fly to Pasadena, California and march in front of millions of people. [They say to themselves] I need to get my game together.’ I find that they are more focused and they are really focusing on those small details and boosting each other’s morale up – because that’s one of the most important things.”
Eagle Pride Band Director Dan Wooten has led marching bands for over 40 years. This trip to California for the Tournament of Roses Parade will be his third with the Niceville Eagle Pride.
“It’s gratifying, particularly when you reach the point in your career where I am to have something this big validate the last part of your time in the profession is very meaningful to me,” Wooten said, “watching the kids come together and turn themselves over to something bigger than they are… that’s what I enjoy.”
Each traveler must undergo airport screening before getting on the chartered Boeing 777 jet that will take them and their three truckloads of gear from Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport to Southern California.
Their bags have gone ahead of them onto the plane – where they are handled by Eglin Air Force Base Airmen who place every tuba, trombone, color guard flag, and overnight bag onto a small conveyor belt to the cargo hold on the plane.
A football field’s length away from the plane, Air Force Colonel Tom Tauer, the Eglin’s Deputy Commander, waits to see the band off.
“I think what’s really special is when you are able to use your unique skill set and do the thing you are trained to do and have that make such a powerful impact on a group of students like this,” Colonel Tauer said about the Airmen under his command.
The group making the trip hop on yellow school busses and make the short trip to Eglin Air Force Base’s flight line. Once there, they hop off into the cold morning weather – and onto the jet bridge up to their seats on the plane, which normally can hold up to 440 people.
Once seated – Niceville High School Principal Charlie Marello, who will fly to Pasadena with his family on the jet, leads the band in a ‘Go Eagles’ cheer before settling into his seat for the six hour, five minute journey over the Southern United States to California and the West Coast.
The Red Tail Flash of the chartered Omni Air Flights bumps forward and the plane takes a circuitous route around the taxiway where it sat the previous evening to the main runway.
The pilot gives full power to the engines and the band takes off to the West Coast. The next time many of their family and friends will see them is through the screen of a television or computer as they march down the road in the Tournament of Roses Parade.