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Union Local, St. Clairsville students to march in Macy’s parade

Four young musicians will represent Belmont County in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on Nov. 25.

The Union Local School District was again selected to send students. April Linard, band director, said this is the eighth consecutive year Union Local students will march in New York.

Jessica McCormick, a junior from Belmont, will play the clarinet, while Carson Phillips, a sophomore from Bethesda, will play the tenor saxophone. This is the first year for each of those students to perform at the parade.

“They were really excited about having the opportunity to go. They’ve worked hard,” Linard said. “The kids enjoy having new musical opportunities, and that’s been one of my goals ever since I started as band director — to provide as many music opportunities as possible. When they know that opportunity’s out there, they go for it.”

She said donations and fundraising by the band boosters will assist with travel expenses. She also has been preparing the students for the trip.

“It’s very busy. There’s a lot to do, a lot of rehearsal time, and they have some sightseeing like that, too. The schedule is kept pretty tight, but it’s a lot of fun,” Linard said.

In the St. Clairsville-Richland City School District, two band members were also selected. Badyn Woodford, a senior, plays the trombone and junior Caleb McKegan plays the saxophone.

Justin Schwertfeger, band director at St. Clairsville High School, said band students have marched in the parade several times in previous years.

“We’ve had two or three before that made it. It’s a really awesome experience,” Schwertfeger said.

“I was really excited,” McCormick said of hearing the news. “I genuinely had doubts on myself that I was going to get it, but I really surprised myself. It’s really opened me up to more ideas of doing things musically.”

Phillips agreed.

“It was really, really surprising,” he said. “I was sitting there (in class) shaken.”

“This’ll be my first time performing at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with the Macy’s Great American Marching Band,” Woodford said. “It will be great to represent the St. Clairsville High School Band.”

“It was pure shock at first,” McKegan said. “I was sitting in my English class. … I was checking my phone and just started crying tears of joy. I was not expecting to get accepted.”

McCormick and Phillips each said their interest in music was kindled while seeing the Jets band perform at the elementary school. They later took the opportunity to join the band.

“I had really, really enjoyed it, and I’ve always been just a musical-based kid,” Phillips said. “I wanted to get involved as much as I could.”

“At fifth grade you come down, try out all the instruments and pick out the one you think you like best, and then just from there you grow,” McKegan said. “It was in seventh grade I started getting a real interest for music and band. I want to do this for the rest of my life.”

Woodford said marching in the parade has been an ambition of his.

“Through watching the parade for a few years and seeing what it was all about, and there was an opportunity for me to showcase my skills and talents, I knew that was something I wanted to go out for,” Woodford said. “I was absolutely elated to read the acceptance letter, because to be honest I didn’t think I was going to get in.”

When the big day arrives, they will have an early-morning rehearsal at 3 a.m. Nov. 25, then the parade begins at 9 a.m.

The students have been looking over their scripts and the music to be played in the parade. They have also spoken to students and former students who have performed in past years.

“It is definitely a challenge,” McCormick said. “I have a couple of friends that have been to Macy’s, and they gave me the whole rundown about what it’s like and the hard work you have to put in.”

Phillips said he is glad the parade is occurring just after marching season so he is in condition for the 3-mile march.

“It’s really cool there are so many kids going from all across the country,” Phillips said. “I’m excited for the whole Christmas New York aspect.”

“Now it’s up to us to memorize the music before we show up to New York City,” Woodford said. “We’ll get there the Saturday prior to the parade, and we’ll have rehearsal days Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday prior to the parade.”

“I’ve looked over it a few times. It’s a lot of fun to play,” McKegan said of the sheet music.

“I heard all good things about how fun it is, how exciting it is. I’m particularly looking forward to we’re all going to see a Broadway musical, and I’m a big musical fan.”

“I’m really excited to go to New York. I’ve never been there before,” McCormick said. “All the different things they have planned, I’m really excited to do. I’ve been told there’s a pizza place that sells very large pizza. I’m excited to see if I get the opportunity to go there.”

Phillips also looks forward to navigating Times Square during the sightseeing portion of the trip.

Linard and Schwertfeger said they do not expect mandates related to the COVID-19 pandemic to impact the usual schedule of activities. Linard said all participants would be vaccinated and wear masks.

“From what I understand, it’ll be closer to normal,” Woodford said. “The marching bands are back. They’re bringing back in-person spectators, so it’ll definitely feel more normal than last year’s Macy’s parade, which was much more slimmed down.”

The students intend to continue studying music.

“It is the best passion that I have,” McCormick said. “I’ve been considering going into music therapy.”

Phillips is contemplating a career in elementary special education and engaging students through music, where his theater background might help in reaching students.

Woodford plans to attend West Virginia University and major in music education.

“I definitely want to major in music once I graduate high school. Get a bachelor’s in music performance and see where I go from there,” McKegan said. He commended his band directors for their training. “I’m really excited and I’m just really grateful and thankful.”

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