HOUSTON -- The Waltrip High School Ram Band already had a quality reputation: decades of music excellence and all “1s” (the highest rating possible) at their most recent University Interscholastic League (UIL) competitions.
But their biggest prize to date happens at the end of a 22-hour charter bus ride next week.
"I think we're pretty good,” said senior drum major Stephanie Quintero. “I'm excited to see all this happening for this band because I know this hasn't happened before."
After months of fundraisers, car washes, and plenty of their own elbow grease, the 141 members of the band are nearing the $150,000 total needed to make the trip to Washington, D.C. to play at the inaugural celebrations for President Obama.
HISD, the Waltrip High School budget, and the band booster club provided the first $80,000. Students were asked to come up with $325 each on their own. The rest, or at least very close to the rest, has been arriving in the daily mail at Waltrip High School. Friday, after a story by the Houston Chronicle, band director Jesse Espinosa showed us a stack of mail, checks, and cash from complete strangers, alumni, and band enthusiasts from across the city.
"I'm just thinking, wow there are still people out there that care about what children do, how teenagers are doing things positive rather than getting in trouble. Glad to have the support,” said Espinosa.
The Ram Band is scheduled to perform at least three different times: at the Old Post Office Pavilion, the Black Tie and Boots Presidential Inaugural Ball, and at the Marine Corps/Iwo Jima Memorial. Espinosa says there is also a 50/50 chance they’ll be marching in the inaugural parade.
The students, many of whom have never even had the opportunity to travel outside of Houston before, will also tour monuments, museums and attend a performance at the John F. Kennedy Center.
“I had never imagined being invited to Washington D.C., said freshman Emily Roberts. “I never thought I would be able to go to Washington D.C., especially for something like this.”
“We're mostly the minorities and people would think it’s just an inner city school,” said junior trumpet player Gregory Vega, Jr. “But we're going to show them we're not just an inner city school. We wanted to move forward and show people that inner city schools and HISD schools can do more than just the average."
And a special seat on one of those four charter buses is being saved for Charlie Stephens. After 30 years as director of the Ram Band he retired last year. He always made the effort to take his students on trips outside Houston to broaden their life experience. This trip, he admits, could be the trip of a lifetime.
"They'll have something to share with their grandkids and for years to come. Yes indeed,” said Stephens.
If you would like to help the Waltrip High School Ram Band make their fundraising goal, donations can be sent to Waltrip High School, Attention Jesse Espinosa, 1900 W. 34th, Houston, TX 77018.