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Northwoods Marching Band students honored with surprise pep rally after Rose Parade performance

The 8-school, 400-member band was the first northern Wisconsin group to march in the internationally watched New Year's parade

The Northwoods Marching Band performs at the 134th Rose Parade in Pasadena, California
The Northwoods Marching Band performs at the 134th Rose Parade in Pasadena, California, Monday, Jan. 2, 2023. Michael Owen Baker/AP Photo

Members of a high school marching band that performed in the Rose Parade received a surprise pep rally Thursday in Wausau.

Forty-five students from Wausau East High School were part of the Northwoods Marching Band, a 400-member collective of musicians from eight north central Wisconsin schools. On Monday, they performed in the parade in Pasadena, California, as part of the annual New Year’s celebration that leads up to college football’s Rose Bowl.

The band was created last year with the aim of making it to the parade. Amy Wainscott, president of the Tournament of Roses, which oversees both the Rose Bowl and the parade, is a graduate of Northland Pines High School in Eagle River. Wainscott helped organize the schools into a unified band. It was the first time any northern Wisconsin school performed in the parade.

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For students, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. On Thursday, Wausau schools superintendent Keith Hilts told students in a packed Wausau East gymnasium it was “historic.”

“You took part in the first time a multi-school band was able to play in the Rose Parade,” Hilts said. “We are so happy for you that you got to have this experience.”

The Rose Parade draws more than 1 million attendees, according to the organization, and is seen by millions more on TV. More than 20 marching bands performed, including the United States Marine Corps band and bands from Japan, Mexico and Italy.

Band director Rob Perkins said it was the first time in his teaching career that there had been a pep rally for the marching band.

Members of the Northwoods Marching Band are honored at a surprise pep rally at Wausau East High School
Members of the Northwoods Marching Band are honored at a surprise pep rally at Wausau East High School, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023. On the scoreboard screen is video from the band’s performance in the 2023 Rose Parade. Rob Mentzer/WPR

The eight schools’ bands combined because individually, none of the schools’ marching bands was big enough to be eligible to participate. As a collective, though, the Northwoods Marching Band was the second-largest band ever to march in the Rose Parade, behind only a 2016 band from Allen, Texas, which had more than 700 members.

The performance was the culmination of months of work.

“We started practicing in June,” said Alexandra Klemp-North, who plays the flute in the band. “Then we went and did the Fourth of July parade circuit in a lot of the towns around Wisconsin.”

The band ended up marching in six Fourth of July parades, said trumpeter C.J. Galetka.

In addition to Wausau East, the other schools that made up the Northwoods Marching Band were D.C. Everest and Mosinee from the Wausau area, as well as Merrill, Antigo, Minocqua’s Lakeland, Eagle River’s Northland Pines and Oneida County’s Three Lakes high schools.

The students got a day to rehearse and a day at the beach before the day of the performance, said Lucy Wright, who plays bass drum. And they did make the most of the southern California weather.

“It was funny because everyone was in huge snow puffer jackets, all the Californians,” Wright said. “We were all in shorts and a T-shirt and sunglasses, even when it was overcast. We were like, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s almost 60 degrees!’”