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East Lake school band cuts Olympics trip short

They practiced all year. They raised thousands of dollars. They packed their uniforms and spent 10 hours on a bus to Atlanta.

But for 30 students in the East Lake High School jazz band, the dream of performing at the Olympic Games fell apart on Saturday.

After learning of the bomb blast at Centennial Olympic Park, school officials decided to cut short the trip and bring the students home.

"I'm very disappointed," said principal Rick Misenti, who learned of the explosion in a 5 a.m. phone call from band director Daniel Wood. "The kids worked hard for months for this trip."

After the blast, some tourists in Atlanta decided to stay and enjoy themselves to prove a point: They would not be scared away by terrorism.

"But," said Pinellas school official Nancy Zambito, "when you're responsible for other people's children, you don't have the luxury of making that kind of statement or decision."

The original plan was for the students to play across the street from Centennial Olympic Park on Saturday and in two more parks today before returning Monday.

As consolation for the aborted trip, the students and their chaperones took a detour Saturday to the Six Flags theme park outside Atlanta and performed at a wedding in Smyrna, Ga. They also were expected to play for a group of German students, officials said.

But then, after just one day in Atlanta, it was time to go home.

No performances downtown. No chance to drink in the festive atmosphere or to meet other bands from around the country. Instead, it was time for an all-night bus ride back to Florida.

Maria Rocheleau, whose 15-year-old daughter, Katherine, was on the trip, agreed with the decision to bring the children home. Most other parents felt the same way, though at least one disagreed, she said.

"I really feel the kids have been victimized," Rocheleau said. "They really had to work for the money. The trip was expensive. To see all their hard work and anticipation go down the tubes is very disappointing."