At 11:21 a.m. Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, on the largest stage in the world, the best of York County wowed the world watching on TV.
The Nation Ford High School marching band of Fort Mill had already wowed 2 million people in person. Americans cheering, surging, clapping - for them.
A year and a half of drill instructor style practice paid off. In the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City, broadcast on national television, the Nation Ford High School marching band showed just how cool it is to be in the band.
So cool that after two-plus hours of marching - and hours of preparation that started in the darkness in the shadow of Central Park on Thursday and really started in April 2010 when the band was selected to participate - nobody cared that their feet ached and were sore and swollen. That lips could not play another note.
Because at 11:21 a.m., and for the next 63 seconds, NBC showed nothing but the Nation Ford High School band as it came up to the star on the pavement in front of famous Macy's Department Store at 34th Street.
"Beyond cool, beyond description, just beyond amazing," said Tia Ferrara, a 15-year-old alto saxophone player in the band, by telephone after the parade. "I am going to tell my kids and grandkids all about it - when I am old enough to have kids and grandkids, of course."
The 160-member band marched south from near Central Park, through Times Square and its neon lights known throughout America and the world. They ended up in a spot where celebrities clapped and cheered - for them.
Here were these students from little Fort Mill, in South Carolina, dazzling all the way.
Sure, it was cold, and young people's hands and feet should have felt like ice, but the joy of being on America's grandest stage in an honor given to just eight bands in America made all cold seem like a mirage.
"It was cool, so cool, so awesome, just so much fun that I can't believe I really just marched in the Macy's parade in New York City!" squealed Nikki Rizzo, a 17-year-old in the color guard.
The experience thrilled all these young people, from the drummers to the flute players and everyone in between.
Johnny and Sara Tennant, brother and sister and one of 16 sibling pairs in this band, marched in front of the world. Sara even was featured, as were all the clarinets and a few other woodwinds and brass players, in the 63 seconds that the band was in close-ups on NBC. The whole band was on national TV for part of that time, too.
Most of the students had never been to New York City, seen all these sights, let alone played in the most famous of New York's parades.
"Intense," said Johnny Tennant.
"Awesome," said his sister.
Teens, when they say something is awesome, it is awesome.
And here they were, just behind the superstar singer Mary J. Blige, and the floats, and even a bunch of guys in headbands from New Orleans called the 610 Stompers. Not even those guys stomping could stop or drown out Nation Ford's band.
Nation Ford's band marched through Manhattan - the brass section wailing, the woodwinds whirring, the percussion pounding - without pause. Without a hitch. Without complaint. There was no other sound, seemingly, than their own, they said afterward - although they looked up in awe at the huge buildings as they passed between those buildings in the largest Thanksgiving event.
Because at Nation Ford, reigning state champion marching band, Thursday was the culmination of so much work. The announcement that the band was selected came in 2010, and so much work and fundraising and effort went into getting there. But what matters, in the end for marching bands, is the performance. The sound. The steps and choreography.
Most bands are required to do three "run-throughs" before the parade, to make sure they have everything together. Nation Ford had one run-through in the darkness at about 3:45 a.m., and parade organizers said to Martin Dickey, the director of bands, "You are good to go."
The marching and performance went off without a hitch, Dickey said - a testament to the hard work of students who worked through middle school and high school. The performance was a thank-you to all the parents who supported the students and drove them to and from hundreds of practices, and all these band directors from younger days until now, who gave the extra effort to prepare for the shining, national-exposure moment.
"When we say team effort, this truly was a team of students, parents, boosters, band directors, everyone, to make this work," Dickey said. "The kids were great. This is about the students, not the adults. The kids were just ..."
And because Martin Dickey spends so much time around teenagers, when asked what the experience was like, and because he was surrounded by jabbering youngsters shouting near the telephone, Dickey said the word that was so apt Thursday:
Video of the performance: