Letcher County sent some of its students to serenade President Barack Obama for his second inauguration Monday, though it voted overwhelmingly against him in November.
The Letcher County Central High School Marching Band, accompanied by the school's JROTC Honor Guard, will be Kentucky's sole representative in the inaugural parade on Pennsylvania Avenue, from the Capitol to the White House. The Presidential Inaugural Committee called the school Dec. 18 to say the band was one of 24 selected from among 2,800 parade applications.
"We'll probably be a little nervous, but it's nothing we can't handle," Jonathan Niece, 17, a senior in the JROTC unit, said in a telephone interview from Whitesburg before the contingent of about 95 students, parents and other chaperones left for Washington on Saturday.
For a marching band, a presidential inaugural is nearly as high an honor as the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, band director Jason Griffith said. "In terms of it being an historical venue, it's actually higher," he said. "And it only happens once every four years, of course, so there's that."
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The band will be fourth from the end in the parade, portions of which will be viewable during hours of coverage offered by network and cable television news programs.
The students' involvement could prompt some Letcher County residents to watch even though they opposed Obama.
Letcher County is staunchly Democratic in its history and voter registration. However, it chose Republican Mitt Romney over Obama in the November election by a 4-to-1 margin. Even in the Democratic primary, where Obama was unopposed, Letcher County favored "Uncommitted" over the president by a 2-to-1 margin.
Local residents hold Obama responsible for the economic troubles of the coal industry, which is the region's major employer, said Lena Parsons, vice chairwoman of the Letcher County Democratic Party.
"So many coal companies have closed down here, and the blame went back to Obama," Parsons said. "But I hope people don't let politics get mixed up in this. I think everybody ought to put their politics aside and be proud when it comes to the children and the band."
Apart from the parade, the students performed Saturday night at the Bluegrass Ball, an inaugural party hosted by the Kentucky Society, and they planned to place a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery.
This will be the first trip to the nation's capital for some of the students. Adam Howard, an 18-year-old senior who plays the sousaphone, said he hoped to tour the Smithsonian museums along the National Mall while he's in Washington. Howard credited band supporters in Letcher County for raising the money — about $1,000 per student, he said — necessary to pay for the trip, through a chili supper, silent auction and other events.
"The community has supported us tremendously," Howard said.