Tom Eblen

Tom Eblen: Lafayette band is on the march to Tournament of Roses Parade

The Lafayette High School marching band's color guard  rehearsed recently on a parking lot behind the high school.
The Lafayette High School marching band's color guard rehearsed recently on a parking lot behind the high school. Herald-Leader

Lafayette High School Band members, parents and staff usually can catch their breath this time of year, between the end of marching band competition and the start of concert band season.

Not this time.

The band, whose championship tradition goes back more than half a century, is preparing for its biggest, longest and most complicated trip ever: to march in the Tournament of Roses Parade on New Year's Day in Pasadena, Calif.

Lafayette, which has twice been the featured band in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York, is the first Lexington band to be chosen for the Tournament of Roses. Lafayette was selected in October 2011 in its third application over the past eight years, said Chuck Smith, the director since 1996.

As part of the application, uniformed band members met at the school one Saturday morning in April 2011 to make a video of them marching a flawless 110- degree turn. Television cameras show each band making a turn like that onto Pasadena's Colorado Boulevard during the Tournament of Roses Parade.

"We try to find opportunities that are unique for our students," Smith said. "And this will be an action-packed adventure."

The band's large instruments and equipment will leave for California by truck on Dec. 21. Seven days later, the band's 212 members, plus about 500 parents and fans, will fly out for the seven-day, six-night trip.

"There are a lot of logistics," Smith said. "It has been quite a process, and I have had a lot of help. It truly has been a group effort."

Lafayette will be one of a dozen high school bands from around the country in the parade. The band also will appear Dec. 30 in the Tournament of Roses Bandfest, performing the field show that won Lafayette its 17th state championship this year.

After a modest New Year's Eve celebration on "Kentucky time" — 9 p.m. California time — it will be lights out until 3 a.m., when band members must rise to make the hour-long trip from their hotel in Anaheim to Pasadena to line up for the parade.

While in California, band members will get to go to Disneyland, visit Universal Studios, tour Hollywood, play on a Pacific Ocean beach and have dinner aboard the Queen Mary steamship, now a hotel docked at Long Beach.

"It's going to be a really memorable, life-changing trip for many of these kids," said Joey Maggard, who with his wife, Sara, was president of the band parents' group last year and stayed on after their son's graduation to coordinate this trip. "For some of them, it will be the first time they've ever been on an airplane."

Until they leave for California, band members will be practicing that 110-degree turn and building up stamina for the 5.5-mile parade, which is twice as long as the Macy's parade. Smith said the students will march many miles around the school's track over the next four weeks.

The band will play My Old Kentucky Home during the parade, the 1981 Journey hit Don't Stop Believin' and John Philip Sousa's U.S. Field Artillery March, which includes Lafayette's school fight song.

You can get a preview of the performance on the evening of Dec. 6, when Lafayette marches in the annual Lexington Christmas Parade downtown.

Lafayette's band parents organization has raised money all year to help reduce students' $1,525 all-inclusive trip fee, and to cover part or all of the cost for students whose families can't afford to send them.

Beth Potter, who with her husband, Jack, is president of the parents' group this year, said the band has received cash and in-kind donations from business sponsors and residents who contacted them after hearing about the trip. Donations are still being accepted on the band's website,

"We couldn't be more proud of these kids," Potter said. "It has been a huge group effort from a committed group of parents and kids who will be mighty proud on New Year's Day."