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Rich South band falls short of fund-raising goal, but some members still Olympics-bound

OreJacksleft Khaylan BoltMarques Webster members Rich South bplay Chick-Fil-A restaurant try raise funds for their upcoming trip Londplay Olympics OrlPark

Oreon Jackson, left, Khaylan Bolton and Marques Webster, members of the Rich South band play at the Chick-Fil-A restaurant to try and raise funds for their upcoming trip to London to play in the Olympics, in Orland Park, IL on Thursday July 19, 2012. They've raised enough to send 21 kids to London. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: July 23, 2012 1:46AM

Watch closely for the red-white-and-blue uniforms of the Rich South High School Marching Band during the Summer Olympics’ torch-lighting ceremony Friday night.

Only 21 of the 109 band members from the Richton Park school will participate in the ceremony.

That’s because the band’s fundraising drive for the Olympics’ trip fell far short — collecting $35,000, a little more than 10 percent of the $300,000 goal.

With a cost of $2,500 per student for the trip, school officials decided to use the $35,000 to give some money to each student, and those who could come up with the $2,500 to go would be able to go to London. Four adult chaperones are joining the 21. They leave Tuesday and return July 30.

“It hurts me that we didn’t get anyone to underwrite the trip because I wanted to take everybody,” band director Y.L. Douglas said. “The ones who couldn’t go, it’s because financially they weren’t able to hold up the obligation. That’s totally understandable. It’s very difficult these days. But we are blessed to have this opportunity.”

The lucky 21 “will honor all 109” by playing well in London, he said. Besides the opening ceremony, they’ll play for three other events during the Games, including a birthday celebration.

“Jamaica is having a festival celebrating the birthday of Bob Marley. They’ve invited us over to perform ‘One Love’ and do a Bob Marley medley,” Douglas said. “I guess someone told them we’ve played Bob Marley on the field before.”

One of the fortunate few, junior Elijah Scott-Christmas, 16, is thrilled to take his trumpet to London.

“It’s crazy because I’ve never had an opportunity to do something this rare. This is something you don’t find every day, not even yearly. It’s just magnificent,” Scott-Christmas said.

To prepare for the trip, the band has been rehearsing for hours daily in the school’s parking lot, trying to ignore the oppressive heat rising from the blacktop as temperatures reach the mid- and upper 90s.

“You really have to have the focus. You go over and over things again, so it becomes natural, second-nature. Mr. Douglas helps us build the confidence and leadership,” said Scott-Christmas, who also plays several sports for Rich South.

Jazmine Short, 16, who plays the clarinet, said this year’s band “is going for the band that didn’t get to go to the 2008 Games in China.”

The band’s trip “shows that high school kids are trying to do something good,” said Short, who hopes to catch a glimpse of basketball star LeBron James in London.

In January, Douglas was confident the band could raise the $300,000.

“Whatever donations didn’t come in, the parents covered,” he said. “The parents came through. I’m humbled by it, really.”

Douglas said support from political leaders in Richton Park, Olympia Fields, Matteson, Park Forest and University Park helped raise donations. So did fundraising events held in the past year.

“I live in the community, as well. I run into people at Walgreens who say, ‘Hey, you ready to go yet? Here, take this $20.’ I’m grateful to the community for wrapping their arms around us,” he said.

The Rich South Class of 1981, for example, gave a $3,000 donation, he said.

The band was at a fundraiser Thursday night at the Chick-Fil-A in Orland Park. The restaurant gave the band 15 percent of its proceeds from 5 to 8 p.m. Band parents were in the parking lot, thanking diners for helping out.

Linda McClinton was one of the few parents to find donations to cover the full cost for her son, Kenneth, to make the trip.

“We didn’t get as much as we wanted (for the entire band), but we appreciate everything we got,” she said.

Rich South Principal Cynthia Hudson won’t be going to London but hopes to see the band on TV.

“It’s a great honor for our band to go and represent not only Rich South but the school district, the community, the state of Illinois and the United States. It’s a huge honor, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our young people to get a global view,” Hudson said.

And while she’s disappointed the entire band is not going to England, she knows “this small contingent will perform well and make us very proud.”

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