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Warhawks march in limelight

Along with millions of TV viewers, the folks back home in Seminole saw the Warhawks band march in the Tournament of Roses Parade long before the parents on the scene ever got a glimpse.

That's because their viewing stands were miles down the parade route. So on Saturday morning as the parade began, parents in Pasadena, cell phones tight to their ears, were calling home to see how the band looked an hour before they got a chance to see for themselves. The reviews were good.

After the weeks of rehearsals, months of fundraising and a two-hour parade route, Seminole High School's band had become the first to represent Pinellas County in the Rose Parade.

Marching alongside hills and palm trees, The band played nonstop through the first mile, said Collin Kostiha, a 16-year-old junior and one of three drum majors marching.

"Some struggled, huffing and puffing, but they made it, from the smallest freshman to the biggest senior," band director Dan "Chip" Wood said.

They looked great, Wood said, even when the band was stopped on the famous 105-degree turn at the beginning of the parade route after a float stalled. "We had practiced making that turn again and again," said Wood, who last month called in a recruiter from the U.S. Marine Corps Band to work with the students.

Though rain and dark clouds followed the group since its arrival Dec. 27, the morning of the parade brought blue skies and a chilly breeze.

Ashlyn Eddinger, a 14-year-old freshman in the color guard, said it was really cold. "My feet were numb for the first 2 miles."

Although 172 students were expected to march, the rigorous schedule and early morning wakeup calls of the weeklong tour took its toll on some students. Two band members who made the trip were too ill Saturday to perform. One saxophone player in a wheelchair, 14-year-old Josh Brown, was pushed in the parade by his sister while recovering from knee surgery.

Eleven of those who marched had graduated in May and returned for the parade.

About 1-million spectators travel to Pasadena for the Rose Parade. Another 300-million watch network broadcasts worldwide. The band was eighth in last week's lineup and the first of 17 high school bands marching.

"It was really emotional," said Billy Conte, a 17-year-old senior. "Everybody on the street was screaming and cheering."

Senior Andy Winn, 17, said: "At some points there was less than a foot of space between me and the audience."

Four miles down the parade route, Seminole parents huddled in bleachers, waiting more than an hour to watch their children march by.

"A lot of people were calling home to find out how (the band) looked on TV," said Diane Richardson, whose 16-year-old son plays the tenor saxophone and 10-year-old son carried the band's banner. "My parents were in Clearwater. They were watching on two different channels."

At least eight networks broadcast the parade, but NBC gave the most coverage to Seminole High's band, parents said. It aired the crucial turn at the corner of Orange Grove and Colorado boulevards and had the band on camera for almost four minutes.

"I'm very proud," said Lanie Nall, a head chaperone and father of two daughters marching. "But it's a pride for the entire band."

It's not easy moving that many kids _ and about 200 parents _ through a tour of California, Nall said. During its stay, the band took rainy day trips to Disneyland, Six Flags Magic Mountain and the San Diego Wild Animal Park and enduring a minor bus accident Dec. 28.

Last Thursday, the band performed an exhibition show in Pasadena. After the saturated field soiled about 100 band members' white pants, a group of parents took the uniforms to be laundered.

"After that much preparation you're not going to step out in the Rose Parade with mud on your pants," Nall said.

The journey to Pasadena began in September 2003, when Wood learned that his students had been selected from among 180 high school bands. A year of fundraising by band boosters netted almost $100,000 for the $350,000 trip. Band parents paid the rest.

Though Wood says he's not ready for another big performance any time soon, he said he has received applications for a handful of parades here and in Europe, including the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.

The band is scheduled to march in the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. day parade Jan. 17 in downtown St. Petersburg.