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Band takes home more than just a suntan

By DONNA WINCHESTER

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 11, 2001


Members of the Grand Rapids (Minn.) High School band, their chaperones, family members and friends boarded two planes Tuesday and headed home after spending a week in Florida for the 80th annual Festival of States celebration.

The Governor's Cup, the trophy they won for being the best band in Saturday's parade, will follow them to Grand Rapids in a week or so. The trophy, which changes hands from year to year, actually is returning to their school. It is the same trophy the Grand Rapids band won for its first-place performance in the 1995 Festival of States parade.

The group left by bus for Orlando after their field show performance Saturday to spend a few days at Disney World. It was another first in a series of new experiences for the students, many of whom had never ventured farther south than St. Louis.

Band director Mark Saiger said he and co-director Dale Gunderson were proud of the way the students behaved on the trip. They were especially proud of the way they handled the news that one of their teachers was killed in a machinery accident Friday. They turned in a "spectacular" performance at the parade Saturday and at the after-parade field show in spite of the sad news.

Were they looking forward to going home?

"A little bit yes and a little bit no," Saiger said. "Home is home, but when you're having such a great experience, you don't want that to end."

Saiger said they haven't had much chance to talk about it yet, but the adults as well as the students agree it was the trip of their lives.

"What they were most impressed with was the beach and the warmth," Saiger said. "Not just the warmth of the atmosphere, but the warmth of the people, too."

He said everyone they met, from the Suncoaster hosts who assisted them to the security guard at their hotel, took an interest in them and made their stay enjoyable.

"We will be back again," Saiger said. "No matter how the festival changes or evolves, no matter how many bands come, we will be back to St. Petersburg. There's no doubt about it."

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