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Spring-Ford Golden Rams March on to Chicago

A recap of the band's trip to Illinois this Thanksgiving.

By George Growcott, photos courtesy of the band

With another Tournament of Band Group 4 Grand Championship under its belt, you’d think that it would be time to sit back a little and take it easy! Oh, not so!  It’s time for the Holiday Season, which as over the last four years means time for the Marching Rams to take to the streets for the parades.

People across the country look forward to and expect Thanksgiving Day and Holiday Season Parades with floats, balloons and bands to kick off what most feel is the “Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”

This year the Marching Band traveled to Chicago for the 20th Annual “Magnificent Mile Lights Festival.” Last year the producer of the Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day Parade spoke with [band director] John Eckstine while the band performed in Philadelphia about the possibility of bringing the band to Chicago for what is the cities largest kick-off of the holiday season.

This year’s event marks the fourth major holiday event that Spring-Ford’s band has taken part. In 2008 they performed at the Hollywood, Cal. Christmas Parade over the Thanksgiving Holiday, which led to the band’s invitation to the 2009 and 2010 Philadelphia Thanksgiving parade, along with last year's 2010 Holiday Parade in West Chester, Pa. There, the band was announced the parade Grand Champion out of 16 bands that were part of that event.

As I’m sure most can understand, moving a band of over 110 members, chaperones, staff and equipment calls for a lot of planning and hard work to make everything happen. Below is just what it was like to be a part of this great event and what the students got to see and do during their “quiet weekend!”

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The band members, parents and staff hit the road on Thursday night, Nov. 17 at 8:30 p.m. in their three motor coaches for the trip to Chicago to perform and show the over 1.2 million live viewers that attended this parade this year what Spring-Ford is all about when it comes to marching music!

The band arrived early Friday morning after many hours on the road and hit Chicago running! First was the visit to the Skydeck at the Willis Towers (formerly known as the Sears Tower) where they got to look out over Chicago and Lake Michigan from the 103rd floor of the tallest building in the country. This was followed by some time to walk around the Magnificent Mile area of Chicago to look at the shops and sights and munch on some of Chicago's famous deep dish pizza.

Then we went to the Springhill Suites of Marriot at the O’Hare Airport to get checked in and relax some before dinner at the Hard Rock Café for good food and entertainment! After all that was over, we went back to the hotel for some sleep in a real bed for the first time since traveling Thursday night.

Saturday morning at 9 a.m., breakfast was served. Following breakfast, it was time to make the final adjustments for the parade in the evening in the parking lot of Springhill Suites. As the band marched around playing their music, visitors in the hotel, workers and neighbors came out to watch and listen before the hitting the road. It was off to lunch at Gino’s East Pizzeria and head to downtown Chicago!

Since we were running a little head of schedule, the tour guide suggested a little side trip to the famous home of the Chicago Cubs: Wrigley Field. The band got to see and get a real feeling of what it must be like at this old time stadium and the famous roof top stands over the outfield walls where so many enjoy the Cubs!

After our stop at Wrigley, it was time to get to the Magnificent Mile warm up area, then moving to the staging area of the parade and the wait to step off into the parade route.

Watching the floats moving into position, stars from the Disney Network, which included Mickey and Minnie, the world’s two most famous mice, can make time move slowly so the band gave the other bands and viewers a taste of Pennsylvania. The members of the band requested and received the go ahead from Eckstine to play the band’s third movement from this year’s marching band show.

By the time the band was halfway through the number, a crowd had surrounded them and, at the end, several of the other bands cheered for what they had just heard, along with others that had come over to listen. Finally, at about 6:05, the band stepped off to the delight of the estimated 1.2 million viewers along the one and a quarter mile route, along with television-viewing audience.

After the parade everyone got back on the buses for dinner at Ed Debevics Diner for an interesting and entertaining meal before heading back for some sleep!

Sunday, with the parade over, it was time to learn more about what Chicago has to offer. The Spring-Ford party got to walk around the Museum of Science and Industry, which has many different displays along with on the only German U-Boat in the US which was captured in 1944.

After the museum we moved on to Millennium Park in the downtown area along Lake Michigan with its ice skating rink, band and performing arts theater and architecture.

Then it was then time to head over to the Navy Pier to look around the shops and find one of the band members become part of a magic act before boarding the Mystic Blue ship for a Dinner Cruise. A great meal and a night of dancing followed on the Mystic Blue before calling it a day and heading back to the hotel.

Monday morning, it was time to clean out of our motel rooms, pack and get on the buses for the ride back to Royersford. Although a long ride, which was broken up with a great meal and fun for all at Dave and Buster’s in Oak Creek, Ohio, everyone was glad to get home early Tuesday morning.

The trip was great with another superior performance by the Marching Rams. The band members, chaperones and staff got to learn more, not only about Chicago, but one another!

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The marching band season is almost over. Wednesday night, the band was able to be part of football teams’ first over Phoenixville since 1998, cheering them on while performing their last field performance of 2011 “The Art of War.”

Congrats to the football team for its great season.

On Dec. 2 in West Chester, the band will be leading off as the Honor Band of the West Chester Old Fashion Christmas Parade which will also feature appoximately 14 other bands, including the West Chester University Golden Ram Marching Band.

Everyone will be able to view the Chicago Magnificent Mile Parade locally on Dec. 11 on channel 6 ABC. The parade is scheduled to be shown at 1 or 1:30 p.m. that day. We have been assured that the Spring-Ford band will be shown on the shortened regional rebroadcast of this event.

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