It was a sendoff fit for superstars Tuesday as the London-bound Rich South marching band performed for supporters before heading to London, England.
Outside of Rich South High School in Richton Park, band director Yolandus Douglas led three saxophonists, one tubist, four drummers, two clarinetists, three trumpeters, another horn player, and the two cymbal players in a medley of songs they will perform during the 2012 Olympic Games. The community turned out for the sendoff, including several members of the fire department and officers from the Matteson Police, Rich Township Dist. 227 school board officials, school alumni, students, family and even band members who aren’t able to travel with the rest of the group.
They were outfitted in bright red T-shirts adorned by the symbolic Olympic rings and the Rich South High School name emblazoned on the front, blue pants and white caps to represent their school and country’s colors. Hours after playing as part of the bon voyage, the students and four chaperones – including Douglas – boarded Virgin Airlines for their 8-hour flight to the city “across the pond.”
“We’re going to have a good time over in London,” Douglas said to the crowd after thanking village officials from Richton Park and other nearby towns for support in helping make the trip possible. He announced that the band would perform during the Opening Ceremonies and other events, and then return to the United States on Monday.
Only 16 members of the band, out of over 100, will go to the Games, something that Douglas said saddens him. Despite multiple fundraising efforts, most of the band members weren’t able to come up with the $2,500 per person cost of the trip. Collective fundraisers didn’t meet the $50,000 goal the band set and over $300,000 was needed to take the entire band.
“That’s rough for me … I would love to take them all,” said Douglas.
Band saxophonist Taji Elemah, 15, feels “blessed” to be making the trip. He said that he and his band mates put in a lot of sweat equity from long hours practicing and are looking forward to representing the USA and Rich South high school.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” he told the Chicago Citizen.
His mother, Saleha, said for months she sought financial help from family, friends and fundraisers to come up with the money for her son. It wasn’t easy, she said. But she explained that it was no doubt worth every effort.
“I am excited,” she said. “They have done a very good job to prepare for this opportunity.” The mother is confident that the small contingent going to London will do a “great job” representing the whole band. She added that in addition to representing the country, the group will help to show that “Chicago is more than about violence.”
Douglas led the band in playing tunes by artists like Stevie Wonder, Chris Brown and Bob Marley. They also played the Olympic Games theme, “Fanfare.” He said more than anything he hopes the young band members will appreciate the cultural exchange they will experience during their five-day stay. They’ll play the Marley piece as part of their performance for the Jamaica delegation, which invited the band to do so.
“Yes, we’ll be in London but they’re going to be in contact with different cultures, different groups,” he said. “(I want them to appreciate) having the opportunity to see different things that they would only read (about) in a book.”
By Rhonda Gillespie