By Sam Elliott
The Marching Pride of Lawrence Township is preparing for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
The local, regional and national award-winning marching band — a joint effort between Lawrence Central and Lawrence North high schools with more than 250 members — has been selected as one of 21 bands from across the country to participate in the 2017 Rose Bowl Parade.
The selection was first announced last fall, but was made all the more official April 7 when the community welcomed Tournament of Roses President Brad Ratliff to Lawrence Central High School.
Lawrence was the first visit on Ratliff’s 21-stop tour across the country, during which he presented the invited marching bands with their official 2017 Rose Parade flag.
“It’s one of the honors of being involved, and this is my first flag presentation,” Ratliff said. “I’ve been with the Tournament of Roses for 28 years now and this is kind of the culmination of all those years when you get to actually present the flags to the bands that will be coming out.”
Lawrence set a high bar for the remainder of Ratliff’s trip as a police escort brought him to LCHS, where the marching band’s percussion section was awaiting outside for appropriate pomp and circumstance and the long hallway into the school’s common area was lined with a large and loud cheering crowd.
“I’ve been to Indianapolis several times, but this is a little different,” Ratliff said. “Walking in here with everybody lining the halls and cheering and the percussion playing out front totally blew me away. I had no idea we’d get a police escorts with the sirens and lights. This was incredible.”
The flag presentation event featured performances by the jazz band throughout the evening and also included a dinner to kick-start the fundraising effort required in order to get as many band members as possible to Pasadena, Calif.
“Our goal is to raise about $800,000,” said Matt James, one of the Marching Pride of Lawrence Township’s co-directors. “We’re going to do our very, very best to get a close to that number as we can … There’s a lot of work we have to do between now and when we leave.”
The band also hosted a formal fundraising gala during Ratliff’s visit on April 8 while administration is seeking corporate sponsorships and members have mailed out postcards requesting funds and other fundraising events are in the works.
“It’s really exciting, but it is a huge undertaking,” marching band co-director Tom Wallis said. “(Supt.) Dr. (Shawn) Smith and the administration in Lawrence Township have given us a lot of support. The Lawrence Township Foundation has been a huge asset to us as well, we’ve got several parents on a committee and several events lined up to help raise money.”
Building a better band
“They don’t pick just anyone to march in the Rose Bowl Parade,” Smith said. “We have one of the best performing arts marching bands in the United States.”
The collection of awards, accolades and championships from local, regional and national contests in recent years backs up Smith’s statement.
“I think this is at the top,” co-director Randy Greenwell said of the MPLT’s selection to the Rose Parade. “Going to a marching band contest, you can pretty much do that in your own state. To do the Rose Parade, you’ve got to go to California.”
It was Greenwell’s idea to merge the bands from Lawrence Central and Lawrence North into one unit, which began in 2014. Pooling resources has helped the group get to more contest opportunities — and now a Rose Parade that will be seen by more than 80 million television viewers.
“This was one of the goals we had going into the merger, to make the Rose Parade and other large international events be what we do,” Wallis said. “This was kind of just first on the bucket list and we as directors got together and said, ‘Hey, let’s start it now, might as well.’ So we went ahead and put our application in.”