Waxahachie band sweet on New York; Months of selling, practicing lead to Macy’s parade

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

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The dentists in Waxahachie must be in heaven.

It took selling more than 5,000 sugary lollipops – not to mention untold hundreds of chocolate bars, hard candies and cookie dough chunks – but the Waxahachie High School band has raised enough money to march in one of the country’s most prestigious events: the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York.

“Actually, the dentists in town did give us some money,” said head fund-raiser and band mom Sue Simmons. “All that candy might explain that.”

In April, the band received notice that it was one of 12 bands selected from more than 400 applicants to march among the giant Big Bird, Barney and Garfield balloons.

“It’s the first major national parade they’ve been invited to,” said band director Benny Davis. “It’s our biggest undertaking yet.”

Few could have predicted the honor even a few years ago. A decade ago, the Waxahachie band was only 48 students strong, tiny by Class 4A standards. But since then, their numbers have grown – about 220 band members will make the trip to New York – and the accolades have started to come in.

“We’re beginning to gain a reputation of being one of the strongest band programs around in our classification,” Mr. Davis said. “There’s been a great deal of improvement for the last three to five years.”

“There’s a different attitude now,” said senior drum major Jason Hentschel. “Our standards are a lot higher. We’ve got bigger goals than we used to.”

In April, when Mr. Davis received word that the band would be invited to New York, he called a midday band meeting in the school’s auditorium.

“They didn’t know what it was about,” he said. “There were all these rumors: that one of the directors had been fired, or someone was dead or dying, or that they canceled the band program for next year. Some of the kids were crying.”

Then he told them about the Thanksgiving parade, and suddenly kids were crying for a different reason. “They just went berserk,” he said.

Band leaders began to assemble a program for the 2.5-mile march, centered on selections from the musical Les Miserables.

But there was plenty of work to be done away from the practice room. Getting all those students – not to mention parents, alumni and boosters – to New York isn’t cheap. The total price tag for 382 people: $300,000.

Students and parents have been raising money since April. They sold fireworks for the Fourth of July. They sold German food for Oktoberfest. They even arranged a “lube-a-thon”: A local car repair shop sold nearly 1,000 oil changes at $15 a pop, with proceeds going to the band. More than $75,000 has been raised to help pay for the trip.

“I have a full-time job,” said Ms. Simmons, mother to freshman trumpeter Steven and junior trombonist Kyle. “But I spent many a night up until midnight or 1 a.m. counting money. It’s exciting.”

The band leaves Tuesday and will stay through Nov. 25. First on the agenda after they arrive: a drive along the parade route. “We’ve got to march by David Letterman’s theater and Columbus Circle and Times Square, all these places people have heard about on TV. We don’t want them tripping over each other when they’re marching all goo-goo-eyed,” Mr. Davis said.

Then on Thanksgiving, the months of anticipation and fund raising should finally pay off.

“Waxahachie is a small town, but our name is going to be on national TV,” said freshman clarinetist Jennifer Hallabough. “We’re gonna be bounced off the satellites all over the world. It’s gonna show that it doesn’t matter where you come from, you can do great things with hard work.”