Downingtown band heads to Rose Bowl after all

PHILADELPHIA - December 28, 2010

The powerful snowstorm that's stranded thousands of East Coast travelers this week had threatened to ground more than half of Downingtown High School's 350-person strong marching band. But Continental Airlines has now found room for all but a few of the 200 students left in limbo to fly Tuesday night out of Newark, N.J. - and it's working to find seats for the last few.

"The students all felt that if we all don't go, nobody goes," band director Brent Lewis said Tuesday.

The Easton Area High School marching band, meanwhile, was struggling to get to San Diego before Thursday for the Holiday Bowl and the Big Bay Balloon Parade.

While Downingtown pressed the airlines and Gov. Ed Rendell for help, one Easton student reached out to Oprah Winfrey, band president Ian Murphy said.

"We've been rehearsing outside in 20-degree weather until 7 o'clock," Murphy, 18, told The Express-Times of Easton. "We've really been putting the pedal to the metal trying to go full steam ahead for this, and we got dealt a bad card this weekend. A very, very bad card."

Easton's 180 band members had raised about $1,200 apiece for the trip. Messages left with band director Carole Lutte were not immediately returned Tuesday, and it was unclear if any flights had been found - or if Winfrey had replied.

In Downingtown, the weather debacle followed 18 months of planning and $500,000 worth of fundraising by band families, whose children attend Downingtown East and West high schools in the sprawling suburb about 30 miles west of Philadelphia.

In all, 900 students and supporters were making the trip, which includes a band festival Wednesday and a performance at Disneyland on Thursday. The instruments were shipped ahead of time.

The school is one of just a dozen high schools invited to perform in the Rose Parade in Pasadena on New Year's Day.

"It's definitely an experience I could never expect to get again. It's amazing," said senior Emily Wisniewski, who was rebooked for the Tuesday night flight. A younger brother and sister made it out earlier in the day.

Bill Flinn, chief operating officer of the Pasadena Tournament of Roses, said Downingtown was the only group still struggling with travel plans, after a band from Londonderry, N.H., made it out despite the snow.

"We've been trying to support them from here, because we want them in the parade," Flinn said.

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