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It has been more than two decades since the Stevens High School band marched in the famed Tournament of Roses Parade in California, but the memories are still fresh in the mind of former student Jeremy Olson.

"It was amazing," said Olson, who was a junior in 1987 and played the drums. "For the drummers, we never got to stop playing, your arms were constantly moving. You got an amazing workout."

An invitation to the parade, which is watched by more than 2 million people and broadcast in more than 200 countries, is earned.

Milo Winters, who was the school's band director at the time, applied to be in the parade more than a year in advance. Parade officials select schools to represent regions around the country and after being approved, the parade president visited Rapid City to officially welcome the band to the event.

"They make bands feel like honored guests and they were just very good to us," Winters said.

Don Downs, who was the band's assistant director at the time, agreed.

"They are just fantastic when you are out there," he said.

The band prepared for the rigors of a six-mile parade with hundreds of practices, including those scheduled on weekends. In California, Winters was proud that every single one of the 180 students marched to the end.

"Marching six miles is like someone taking a hike and breathing once every 16 steps," he said. "It's physically demanding, but they did a good job."

The adrenaline of the packed crowd adds to the stamina, he added.

"It seemed like a short time, because there are no places where there are not people," he said.

Downs said viewers get to the parade location the evening before, where they camp out and celebrate all night to hold their spots. Behind the people lining the street, are two and sometimes three-story bleachers where people sit in reserved seats.

The South Dakota State University band and the band from Lincoln High School in Sioux Falls have also marched in the Rose Parade. Downs' daughter marched with the university once and Downs was able to view the parade from the bleachers.

One of the most challenging spots in the parade for bands is one of the most-watched by TV viewers, Downs said. The bands must navigate a 109 degree turn right in front of the cluster of TV stations broadcasting the event. Bands typically turn at 90 degree corners.

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"They show the bands when they're the most vulnerable," he said.

Olson said the experience was a dream for a high school student. The band also played at Disneyland and SeaWorld and enjoyed time at the beach.

The preparation for that trip, and others, taught him lifelong lessons he now teaches his own children.

"It was like being part of a state championship football team," he said. "It was a ton of preparation and a ton of work. Mr. Winters gave us incredible guidance."

Olson's two children have taken up drumming, and the former student keeps a picture of the Rose Parade above his drum set in his home, a reminder of what he learned during his time in the high school band.

"We traveled all over and learned about integrity and completion; I learned to be a man when I really needed it," he said.

 

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