LIBERTY CENTER, Ohio - It's billed as the world's oldest and largest civic parade, celebrating every St. Patrick's Day since 1762.
And 88 members of Liberty Center High School's marching band are to take part Tuesday.
Their appearance in the 248th running of the New York City St. Patrick's Day Parade also will climax Larry Lyne's 35-year career as band teacher and director at the school.
"This is kind of putting an exclamation mark on my life," said Mr. Lyne, 55, who is to retire at the end of the school year.
As director of bands for the high school and middle school, Mr. Lyne has instructed many of the band members since they were in fifth grade. Of his impending retirement, he said, "It's a very difficult thing to do. This is my extended family."
The students and 23 parental chaperones departed last night on two chartered buses and have a busy itinerary before they are due home Thursday morning.
This is the first time in memory that the Big Apple has been the destination for the traditional big trip that Liberty Center's band makes every four years. Other destinations have included Orlando, Washington, and Richmond, Va.
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It's also the first time the band has performed before a crowd as large as the 2 million expected along the sidewalks of Manhattan. The students will join about 150,000 participants and nearly 200 other bands from the across the country and Ireland in the march up Fifth Avenue from East 44th Street to 86th Street past the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The parade is to begin at 11 a.m. and is expected to last nearly six hours, with portions televised on NBC. Liberty Center is to step into the action about 2:30 p.m.
Excitement has been building all year for the trip because the band's membership makes up more than one-fifth of the high school's 410 total students. The village of Liberty Center is in Henry County 30 miles southwest of Toledo.
"On the chalkboard in the band room we've been counting down the days," said Jacob Murphy, 17, a senior and band captain who plays saxophone.
New York City is not known for its affordability, and students raised $71,000 for their tripthrough numerous activities and
events over the course of a year, Mr. Lyne said.
Financial assistance was available case by case, with band members paying varying amounts for the trip, he said.
The students will not be hanging out in their hotel when they have finished marching.
Their itinerary is packed. Visits to the World Trade Center site, Ellis Island, and the Rockefeller Center observation deck are scheduled, as well as a behind-the-scenes tour of NBC studios.
On their final night in the city, they will take in the Broadway musical Wicked.
"I love watching kids see things and experience things for the first time, and the entire trip is going to be that," Mr. Lyne said.
He said they chose this particular St. Patrick's Day parade in large part for the excitement and sightseeing opportunities of New York. That and "maybe the fact that I'm 70 percent Irish," he quipped.
With Mr. Lyne's retirement fast approaching, this final trip was shaping up last week to be as emotional for students as it would be for their teacher. Band members said they won't soon forget his caring, bountiful stories, and his always fun demeanor.
"One of the reasons he's going to be missed so much is because we've had him so long," said Jessica Ray, 17, a senior. "And he's had a lot of our parents too and older siblings."
The New York parade celebrates Irish heritage and culture while honoring St. Patrick. Billed as a "true marchers' parade," it allows no floats or automobiles.
The very first marchers were Irish expatriates and Irish natives serving in the British military in the American colonies.
The 2002 parade, dedicated to the "Heroes of 9/11," was reported to be its largest showing to date, with an estimated 300,000 participants and 3 million spectators.
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It's billed as the world's oldest and largest civic parade, celebrating every St. Patrick's Day since 1762. And 88 members of Liberty Center High School's marching band are to take part Tuesday. Their appearance in the New York City St. Patrick's Day Parade also will climax Larry Lyne's 35-year career as band teacher and director at the school.