Local astronauts, dogs and marching band members prepare for inaugural parade

Natalie Plumb, special to wtop.com

WASHINGTON – Dogs, twirlers and life-size models of objects truly meant for outer space will be among the marchers in the 57th inaugural parade Monday.

Nearly 3,000 groups applied to perform in the 2013 presidential inaugural parade on Monday — more than twice the number that applied to march in President Barack Obama’s first inaugural parade.

This year, four local groups — including Ballou Senior High School’s Majestic Marching Knights, the Mighty Sound of Maryland Marching Band, Canine Companions for Independence of Fauquier County, Va. and NASA — were chosen among the 60 organizations that will walk down Pennsylvania Avenue.

Mighty Sound of Maryland Marching Band

Jermaine Fryer, the trombone and baritone section leader for the University of Maryland’s marching band, says students are preparing for the big day independently. As of Tuesday, less than a week before the parade, the band had not set a rehearsal.

But Fryer had no qualms about that, saying his Mighty Sound of Maryland band mates are dependable and individual preparation is what counts.

“It’s kind of like a trust act,” Fryer says.

During the semester, the band rehearses three times each week for two hours at a time. Since the inaugural parade on Monday is two days before the University of Maryland starts the spring semester, the band doesn’t have scheduled rehearsals.

As section leader, it’s Fryer’s job to make sure his band mates have rehearsed their parts and are prepared for the only rehearsal they’ll have before next Monday — the dress rehearsal. Their director, L. Richmond Sparks, will do the rest, Fryer says with confidence.

When they march, whether on Maryland’s turf or on the National Mall, nothing will change, Fryer says.

The Might Sound of Maryland Marching Band has performed in the inaugural parade four times before, starting with President Woodrow Wilson in 1917. The band also performed for presidents Dwight Eisenhower in 1953, John F. Kennedy in 1960 and Ronald Reagan in 1985.

“Every day that we go out on the field we suit up. We perform the same way each and every time,” Fryer says. “The only difference between us marching around (parking) lot one of Maryland and this parade is the location.”

Fryer couldn’t say in advance what songs they will perform, but he guesses they will perform the infamous “Washington Post March” and University of Maryland songs.

“We’ve been fortunate to play some of the songs we’ve been playing for decades and make it sound 10 or 15 times greater than you’ve probably ever heard it,” Fryer says.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Two NASA floats — one carrying a life-size model of the Orion spacecraft and the other displaying a life-size model of the Curiosity rover on Mars — will head down Pennsylvania Avenue in the 57th inaugural parade.

NASA spokeswoman Lauren Worley says no practices are necessary because NASA has participated in the parade for at least four other inaugurations: Richard Nixon’s first and second inaugurations in 1969 and 1973, Jimmy Carter’s inauguration in 1977 and Obama’s in 2009, when NASA displayed its Lunar Electric Rover.

Each year, NASA chooses models that best represent the hundreds of current missions, Worley says. The Orion multi-purpose crew vehicle is a capsule that will take astronauts higher than ever before, and the Curiosity rover is roaming the red planet and providing information that may help send humans to Mars one day, Worley explains.

The models in the parade have been featured in other NASA exhibits. NASA’s 20 members in the parade will walk next to the rover and capsule. Those 20 include at least six members of the Mars Curiosity team and other current and former astronauts.

“Hopefully some familiar faces for those who watched the dramatic landing last year,” Worley says, referring to the engineering team that secured the Mars Rover Curiosity landing on Aug. 6, 2012.

Canine Companions for Independence of Fauquier County, Va.

For the first time, Canine Companions for Independence of Fauquier County, Va. — national nonprofit organization that raises and trains assistance dogs for veterans and people with disabilities — will march in an inaugural parade.

Representatives from the group’s five national regions, including 135 dog trainers and recipients as well as 57 dogs, will participate in the event.

Debra Dougherty, executive director for the organization’s Northeast region, says that with such a large group of people and dogs, Canine Companions began the security process months ago. Every person who wanted to participate in the parade had to go through a background check and submit personal information. She says any Canine Companions member who wanted to march could.

But the dogs, she says, are whole different animals.

Members who raise dogs and Canine Companions volunteers are familiar with the temperaments of each dog and know whether they will act up during a parade. The dogs must be able to handle being surrounded by hundreds of thousands of people along the parade route from the Capitol to the White House, Dougherty says.

“If we are able to stop, (the dogs will) do a coordinated sit, stay, down or speak one of the commands they’re taught,” Dougherty says.

Ballou Senior High School’s Majestic Marching Knights

The one local group making serious day-by-day preparations for the parade is the Ballou Senior High School Majestic Marching Knights.

The nationally-ranked band has not performed in an inaugural parade, but it was the first D.C. public school selected to play in the 2009 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

In the middle of Southeast D.C., Ballou is a school with limited resources. But that never stopped students from excelling in extracurricular activities.

Since 1995, Darrell Watson, Ballou graduate and Majestic Marching Knights’ band director, has helped the marching band grow from just 20 members to more than 80 members today.

The band’s energy and big sound won it a place playing in the 2009 Rose Bowl, and it has been featured on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, ABC News and is the subject of the documentary, “Ballou: A Documentary Film.” First Lady Laura Bush attended the movie’s premiere and recognized Watson at the White House in 2007.

On Tuesday, Watson told WTOP that the band is thrilled to perform in an event that honors the president and Martin Luther King Jr.

“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.”

Watch a video of the band play in the 2012 Homecoming game:

The official swearing-in will take place Sunday. The Presidential Inaugural Committee says the parade will follow the traditional route from the U.S. Capitol Building and continue on Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House on Monday following the public inaugural ceremony.

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(Copyright 2013 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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