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Fergus Falls marching band off to historic presidential inauguration

Marching band entering gym

As the temperature lingered at 10 below Friday morning, Shirley Straush took off her heavy-duty gloves to snap photos of four buses ferrying the Fergus Falls High School Marching Band out of town.

"I just wouldn't miss this," said Straush, 74, standing in her layers by Lincoln Avenue. "Even if it were 50 below, I'd still be here."

The marching band was headed to Washington, D.C., one of 90 acts among a record 1,380 applicants nationwide to score a slot on Barack Obama's inauguration parade Tuesday. Though few residents braved the bitter cold to line the streets as Straush did, the past weeks have seen an outpouring of pride and support.

The Fergus Falls community rallied around the band, which handily exceeded its fundraising goal and enjoyed access to a couple of unconventional rehearsal venues. The support in turn has inspired band members to ratchet up preparations, including 7 o'clock rehearsals on frosty Saturday mornings during winter break.

"I think there's been more excitement and anticipation than for anything that's happened here in recent years," said Mayor Hal Leland, who proclaimed Friday Maroon and Gold Day, for the band's colors. "The community has really responded."

Earlier that morning, the band members had rushed into the high school gymnasium, their schoolmates shrieking and clapping in the bleachers as if rock stars had just stepped on a stage. The night before, the band had packed that same hall with a farewell performance.

By midweek, the band had exceeded its $50,000 fundraising goal by more than $10,000. The local Eagles branch donated $15,000, by far the largest single gift they've made to the school. The residents of a retirement community pooled modest donations to come up with a $156 contribution. The facility is on the band's summer rehearsal route, and some evenings the group serenades residents.

"We're behind them 100 percent, and so proud as the older generation," said an accompanying letter from one resident, a drum majorette in her school band 70 years ago.

"Every day we get some letter that's so touching," said Denise Weise, a band director. "It's hard not to get emotional."

Community members chipped in in various ways. Some brought food to power rehearsals, and a local grocery store volunteered to pack lunches for the band's first day on the road. The Red Horse Ranch Arena and the Westridge Mall invited students to practice their march.

The marquee of First Lutheran Church now reads, "FFHS Marching Band God go with you"; the one on the downtown movie theater says, "Way to go FFHS."

"Fergus Falls has embraced us, and it's crazy how much the community has done," says clarinet player Hannah Rausch.

The band has no intention of letting down their fans. They've put in many hours of rehearsal, including those pesky Saturday morning gigs, when mall walkers would scoot aside to let them through. Band members focused on singing louder and marching in a longer step, to fit their expansive soon-to-be stomping ground. They are ready to unleash their "Yankee Doodle" on the expected million-strong parade crowd.

"Sometimes you grumble and complain about having to get up so early," said flute player Alyssa Cote, "but then you remember how worth it it will be when we march down Pennsylvania Avenue."