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Rich South band seeks help to hit high note: a trip to Olympics

Rich South Bmembers shout cheer during practice earlier this year school. The bis preparing for its upcoming performance Olympics Londthis

Rich South Band members shout a cheer during practice earlier this year at the school. The band is preparing for its upcoming performance at the Olympics in London this summer. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 19, 2012 8:02AM



At 6:45 a.m. on any given school day, the sounds of success ring out in the band room at Rich South High School in Richton Park.

That’s where 109 students practice under the close scrutiny of band director Y.L. Douglas.

“Percussion, you’re slowing me down, slowing me down,” Douglas, 40, said with a smile a few minutes into a recent rehearsal.

What’s not falling off is the band’s excitement over what could be an unforgettable summer vacation.

If all goes as planned, the pride of Rich South will be playing for the world to enjoy. The band has been invited to perform three times during the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

It’s another feather in the cap of a wildly successful program that has won dozens of trophies over the years, along with $5.4 million in college scholarships for band members since 2006.

The band is scheduled to leave for London on July 30, sneak in a trip to Paris and return Aug. 7.

But before it can step foot in London, it needs some help to the “tune” of $270,000. The trip will cost the band about $300,000, and $30,000 has been raised, Douglas said.

“We’ve got a ways to go,” he said as the strains of the band’s rendition of LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem” filtered under his office door.

“We’re looking for our communities to come in, for businesses to partner with us. Clearly, this is a unique situation. Those who can will assist us. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for one of the best groups of kids you’ll find anywhere,” Douglas said in his cubbyhole of an office.

“This is the biggest event ever for the band, for me, for the school, the district, our community. This is why we want to make this all-inclusive. Everybody has something to gain from this. It means a lot to everyone involved,” Douglas said.

“I don’t see us not getting the money. The great thing is I’ve talked with the London organizers and they’re waiting for us. Initially, we had one performance. They said, ‘Send us some tapes,’ and our one performance turned into three,” Douglas said.

The band is fresh from performing at the Chick-Fil-A Bowl on New Year’s Day in Atlanta. That trip cost a modest $650 per band member, nowhere near the $3,000 each for London. But Douglas and his musicians are brimming with confidence.

Tyler Hudson, a junior from Olympia Fields, is thrilled about “getting the opportunity, at 16, to go and do what I love with the people I love.

“I’m almost overwhelmed. I feel like we can do it if we work together to get this done. We can’t go anywhere but up,” said Hudson, a drum major when she’s not playing the piccolo.

Another drum major, Kyndle Hunter, a junior from Matteson, has great faith in the Southland community.

“Every day in the news, you hear all these negative things about our generation, and we’re doing something positive. We don’t want to pass up an opportunity like this,” Hunter, 16, said.

The band has had other chances to perform on the big stage, like being invited to the 2009 Presidential Inaugural Heritage Festival, playing at the Chick-Fil-A Bowl and the annual Bud Billiken Parade on Chicago’s South Side. But nothing compares with the world stage, said Demetrius Burrows, 15, a sophomore from Matteson.

“The bowl game was a wonderful experience,” he said, noting Rich South’s band got to meet with high school bands from around the country. But the Olympics are “up there, way up there,” Burrows said.

Senior Geoffrey Watts, 18, of Richton Park, hopes to one day have a career in music. He plays the tuba and bass guitar.

“This would be my first time out of the country, and I’m really excited. It’s something I’ve always dreamed about, something I want to do when I’m older, play professionally overseas. I think this would help with college applications, too,” Watts said.

Watts also hopes to see some Olympic events such as basketball and track.

Douglas, director since 2006, said the band “has been blessed a lot.”

“It’s been a great time seeing the kids come in, mature and go on to college,” Douglas said. “It’s a big family here. I love them and I think they love me.”

Matricia Jackson, who has two sons in the band, loves Douglas’ dedication to the students.

“I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s amazing. He spends as much time as he can with the children. It really is one big happy family,” she said.

“This trip means a lot. They’ll represent our city, our state, our country. We’ve been selling popcorn and cookies. We’re all working for it,” she said of the fundraising effort.

The band must raise at least three-fourths of the money — a tidy $225,000 — by mid-May, Jackson said.

“I think we’ll do it. I think people will see and read about the band and they will donate. The other day, we got a check for $100 from someone and another for $50. Word is going to get out about the band. People recognize the talent,” said Jackson, the band’s treasurer.

Lynsie Richards, of Richton Park, has a 15-year-old son in the band and is hoping funding can be found. In 2008, the band was invited to perform at the Olympic Games in China but was unable to make the trip.

“We hope anyone who can donate will. These kids are working hard and are very disciplined,” Richards said. “We have to be optimistic about this. We know the economy is not the best, but we also know there are many people out there who are willing to give.

“If the kids can’t go, they’ll survive,” Richards said. “But we hope they can go.”

Band members will play at a fundraiser next month, playing Motown music, jazz and R&B during “Dancing with the Stars” on Feb. 18 at the Matteson Hotel and Convention Center, 500 Holiday Plaza Drive. Tickets are $40 per person and include dinner. About 400 attended last year, Douglas said.

For more information or to make a donation, visit www.richsouthband.org.



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