WASHINGTON - When he got the message that the Ballou Senior High School marching band had been selected for the inaugural parade, director Darrell Watson was floored - more than figuratively.
"Thank goodness that wall was behind me because I backed up into it, and I basically just slid down the wall until I was sitting down on the floor, and tears started flowing down my eyes," Watson says.
Through the years, the Majestic Marching Knights have performed in the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, Calif., the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York and on several television shows.
But the 57th inauguration carries a special meaning to the bandleader, the students and the community in general.
"This is a celebration in two [ways]," says Watson.
"We're honoring the re-election of our president, as well as paying tribute to a man who paved the way for our president," he says.
"It doesn't get any [more] perfect than that."
Adding symbolism to the band's role in the parade, the Knights will follow a float honoring Martin Luther King, Jr.
"I'm really excited. I have a lot of emotions in me right now. I just can't wait until it happens," says Genuine Kinsey, a senior drum major.
"It's the inauguration, but I'm still not nervous about it," says Danae Giles, a junior dancer.
"It just gets me more excited because I know the president's watching us," she says.
On Tuesday, Mayor Vince Gray stopped by the high school in Southeast to both congratulate the band members and reinforce the potential they have for changing attitudes.
"There are a lot of people who think when you come to Southeast all you're going to find is bad stuff," he says.
"That is not true!"
In addition to the band's accomplishments, Gray highlighted students' achievements in earning academic scholarships.
"You all are an inspiration," Gray told the students. "What you have done is absolutely fantastic."
To his knowledge, about 3,000 groups initially filed an application to participate in the parade. And with fewer entries to usher in President Barack Obama's second term, Gray considers the selection to be a more impressive honor.
Watson stresses the journey.
"I always tell my students, 'We're not the best,'" he says.
"'But, oh, what a wonderful road we travel on to get there."
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