RALEIGH, N.C. — On Monday, three North Carolina high schools were among those that marched in the National Memorial Day Parade in Washington, D.C.
The Athens Drive High School Marching Band may be half the size it was before the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s mighty. For almost three decades, it’s been led by Jerry Markoch. His students call him “Doc” because of his doctorate degree.
“We have a passion to do it. You could feel that passion in our performance. There's an optimism in the way we perform. Always. Whether they are concert settings or marching settings,” Markoch, the director of bands at Athens Drive High School, said. “We're not hunting awards. We want to just do the best. We want to be proud of our product and what we do together.”
For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic, the band hit the road and traveled to our nation’s capital to march in the National Memorial Day Parade.
“The marching band came from the military and so this is where we belong, in some ways. It fits the military theme,” Markoch said.
Spectrum News 1 caught up with the band during a practice before the parade, and students say it’s a special experience, especially for seniors who haven’t had a chance to travel with the band yet.
“We were actually supposed to go three years ago in 2020 and march the Memorial Day parade. But due to the pandemic, we weren’t able to. So we’re able to now and we’re super excited,” Emily Schmidt, the drum major in the Athens Drive High School Band, said.
About a dozen members of the band have family ties to the armed forces, making the trip even more meaningful.
“It means a lot to me personally because my grandfather served in the Army and getting to play, having the honor of playing for people that have served. I can think of my grandfather while I’m playing,” Austin Hampton, who plays the baritone in the Athens Drive High School Band, said.
Hampton says he was looking forward to being among those representing the Tar Heel State and wanted to make those back home proud.
“We’re the number one ambassador of the school, so when we go out, people think of the band. When they think of Athens Drive, they think of our band, how hard we work, the teamwork, the dedication and putting that out for veterans for them to see. It’s just it’s just a privilege,” Hampton said.
The other two North Carolina schools that marched in the National Memorial Day Parade are from the Charlotte area, Cox Mill High School and David W. Butler High School.