On many weekends last fall, Fort Mill High School marching band students, parents and staff fanned out around Fort Mill, rakes in hand, clearing neighbors’ yards.
Other days would find them hauling scrap metal from one end of the town to the other or picking up donations for the holiday craft fair.
They were glad to do anything to raise funds. Now, they’re ready to enjoy the fruits of those labors.
The band leaves Wednesday for a six-day trip to Ireland, where they will perform in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin.
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Last week, students and parents met with trip organizers to get final details on the itinerary, traveling overseas and to learn a little more about the country.
The weather is expected to be cold and wet, said band booster president Dawn Rackley, so it won’t be unlike what Fort Mill has experienced lately. The details of international travel were helpful to learn from the travel experts, she said.
“Everyone is scurrying around getting Euros and adapters and things like that, that you don’t think of that you need, but you do,” said band booster president Dawn Rackley.
Rackley’s son, Alex Johnson, is traveling with the band and her husband, Brian Rackley, is also going on the trip. This is the family’s first international trip.
“At 43 years old, this is my first passport. It was really cool to get it and hold it in my hands,” she said.
For more than a year, the students, staff and parents have been thinking “green.” At first, it was all about getting enough money to get the trip off the ground. Originally, the band had a fundraising goal of $100,000 to meet.
Then, just four months before they left for Ireland, they upped that goal by $15,000 to accommodate an increase in airfare. They raised money through fundraisers including a holiday craft show, a drum corps event, ongoing scrap metal drive, raking yards and through several large corporate sponsorships.
In the first week of February, the band celebrated meeting that goal — and exceeding it — by bringing in a total of $118,101.
Those funds represent the hard work of an entire community, said band staff member and Fort Mill High School English teacher Jason Ford.
Now that the funds have been raised, tickets have been purchased and bags are packed, the excitement has shifted to the lush green countryside that Ireland is famous for.
“Everyone has been so busy that we didn’t think about actually going,” said Fort Mill High School senior Sara Ann Hutto. “So now, we’re getting so excited. I’m just in rapture listening to everything it’s going to be like, what it’s going to look like. This will be a real experience.”
Band members have been practicing twice weekly after school for several weeks to ensure they are ready for the parade.
“This week and last week have been all about memorizing the music and proper form, with straight ranks. But now that we’re closer to leaving, we’re getting exciting about the trip side of things,” Hutto said.
In addition to participating in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin, the students will also sightsee and tour other parts of Ireland.
They’ll visit the Cliffs of Moher, Blarney Castle and enjoy a medieval banquet in a castle.
They’ll also sightsee in Dublin, including a visit to St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
The Blarney Castle is high on everyone’s list of things to see, specifically, the Blarney Stone. The Blarney Stone is a stone in Blarney Castle that legend says will give the “gift of gab” to anyone who kisses it.
“Now, I’m not going to let my husband do that, because he already has that gift, but I might do it,” joked Rackley.
“I want to kiss the Blarney Stone,” said Hutto. “I also want to see the ruins, the countryside, just walk around Dublin and go shopping. It’s all so new and exciting!”
The Fort Mill Times will post pictures of the parade and, as available, other events from the band’s trip on our website, www.fortmilltimes.com, Facebook page and via twitter, @fortmilltimes.
The St. Patrick’s Festival also has an iPhone app that provides a live feed of the parade. It can be downloaded via iTunes or through the festival website, www.stpatricksfestival.ie.