The Southland is rallying behind the London-bound Rich South High School marching band. Last Thursday, the band held a fundraiser at Bocce Restaurant in south suburban Matteson to help raise money for its trip to the Olympic Games this summer.
Mayors from several south suburban towns were at the fundraiser and pledged moral and financial support to the band. Business and community leaders also promised to back the Marching Stars with cash and lots of praise.
Big things have been happening for the band in the last few years. But nothing was quite as huge as the news that band director Y.L. Douglas Jr. delivered to the young musicians when he found out the band had been selected for the Olympics. He had been encouraged by band supporters to send an audition tape as part of the application process for the Games. When the bid was accepted and he told the students, “you could hear a pin drop,” he said.
As the leader, he was humbled.
Douglas holds even more bragging rights when it comes to his band members’ scholastic achievement. He has 12 who will be going to college in the fall and whose academic success netted them a collective $1.5 million in scholarships and grants. That’s a high note that has reverberated throughout the band over the last six years. In the 2010 graduating class the valedictorian was a band member.
“Since 2006, these kids have brought me $6.5 million in scholarships — band scholarships and academic scholarships,” he said. “The arts is such a strong pillar in these kids’ lives.”
“I’ve seen some things that I know only God can do, this being no different — to have the opportunity to make it to the 2012 Olympics,” Douglas said, still shaking his head in amazement.
He said some of the kids in his 109-member band would hardly have a chance to “leave the block, let alone go abroad and be a part of the ‘American teams.’”
But he could only call it the work of a higher power that, come July 24, he will take one-third of the band across the Atlantic to the popular European city for a week and a half. Douglas said the band will be present for the Olympic torch lighting ceremony and will perform at least three times throughout their time at the Games. Band members will also get to interact with some local high school students and take in some of the sights. They’ll be there until Aug. 1.
Not as many of the students as Douglas would have liked will get to take the trip from their hometown of Richton Park to London because of the hefty cost per person to go. He said initially sponsorships and donations trickled in a bit too slow to meet some of the financial deadlines the band had to adhere to. While some parents were able to pay the $2,500 expense out of their own pockets for their students to go, a lot more weren’t. And even with a majority of the band not going, the Rich South marching band is still roughly $20,000 short of the $55,000 they need for the trip. The cost includes airfare, two meals each day, excursions and other amenities.
Drummer and band member Antoine Richards, a 16-year-old junior at the school, is definitely participating in the “once in a lifetime opportunity” to represent the school and his band at the Summer Olympic Games. He said he jumped for joy when he found out about the trip and looks forward to putting his school band on the international map.
Thursday’s fundraiser was organized by Robin Kelly, the former state representative and candidate for state treasurer, and current chief administrative officer for Cook County.
“In the south suburbs we don’t always get the best press and we have a lot of the best out here. I’m so proud of those students and we need to do everything we can to make sure they get to London. They not only can sing and play, they’re scholars and we need to support them. That’s the bottom line,” she said.
The band is still accepting donations. Log onto www.richsouthband.org for more information and to donate.
By Rhonda Gillespie