Special to the Item
The Picayune Item
Millions of people heard of Pearl River Community College on Jan. 21 when the Spirit of the River band marched in President Barack Obama’s inaugural parade.
National television networks broadcast the band playing God Bless America as they marched past the reviewing stand in front of the White House.
“I got to see the president,” sophomore drummer John Fisher of Poplarville said. “I was 30 feet away from the president basically. It was pretty cool for my last year at PRCC to march in the parade.”
Dr. Kyle Hill, PRCC director of bands, received a telephone call on Dec. 18 inviting the band to march. During the Christmas break, he and assistant director Mike Bass contacted all band members who had to send him photos of themselves and information required by the Secret Service for clearance.
“Everything about the trip went smoothly, especially with the short notice that we had,” said Archie Rawls, chair of the Department of Fine Arts and Communication. “Dr. Hill and Mr. Bass do an outstanding job with the band and I’m grateful to them and the college for helping provide this opportunity for our band program.”
About 150 students in the band, String of Pearls and color guard made the grueling bus trip to Washington, D.C. The four buses left Poplarville at 5 p.m. Jan. 19 and arrived at a Washington, D.C., mall about noon Jan. 20 for lunch.
The students spent the afternoon sightseeing, accompanied part of the time by Fourth District Congressman Steven Palazzo.
“There was a large crowd on Sunday that kind of hindered our sightseeing,” Hill said. “Other than that, everything went very smoothly, much better than I anticipated.”
The band reported to the Pentagon at 10:30 a.m. on Inauguration Day for screening. Each person’s ID was checked and agents screened them and their instruments with hand-held scanners.
The buses were driven to another screening point where they were lined up and the drivers taken to a nearby wooded area, Hill said. A magnetometer mounted on a flat bed truck circled the buses, checking them for explosives, he said. Dogs also were used to inspect the interior of the buses.
The screenings impressed the students, Hill said.
“They were very excited, especially the day of the parade and once the security procedures showed them how important it really was,” he said.
After the screenings, the students got back on the buses to wait for the parade to start. They were provided box lunches before going to their line-up point about 2:30 p.m.
The Spirit of the River stepped off shortly after 5 p.m. for the 1.5-mile march along Pennsylvania Avenue. Announcers stationed along the route identified the Spirit of the River for the crowds lining the street.
By the time the band reached stands where Rawls, PRCC Police Chief Doug Rowell and Debbie Hill were watching near Pennsylvania Avenue and 14th Street, darkness had fallen. Despite the late hour, Obama was easily visible to the band as they passed the White House, Hill said.
“He was right up in the front window, waving,” Hill said. “The only thing between them and the president was glass and about 10 feet.”
Television coverage showed Obama and Vice President Joe Biden clapping as the band passed.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Rawls said. “I was very proud of our students.”
After a supper break, the band got back on the buses for the long trip back to Poplarville where they arrived about 3 p.m. Jan. 22.