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    Devil Rays roll out red carpet for high school band

    After a ticket snit last season, a school band will play the anthem - without being asked to pay.

    By BRYAN GILMER

    © St. Petersburg Times, published May 5, 2001


    ST. PETERSBURG -- The paid attendance number at today's Tampa Bay Devil Rays game won't include the teenagers with the horns and drums.

    The St. Petersburg High School band and the baseball team have mended hurt feelings after the club tried to charge band members admission last year to play the national anthem at a game. That prompted the band to cancel the gig.

    "Tickets have been delivered here; parking passes have been delivered," school Principal Linda Benware said Friday, adding that band members are excited about kicking off today's game against the Cleveland Indians. "The red carpet is rolled out, and kids really appreciate it."

    October's episode drew national attention, costing the Rays lots more than several dozen $6 tickets worth of embarrassment.

    "This was obviously a mix-up, and we spoke with (Benware) right away and set a new date and let her know how much we wanted them out here, and obviously they're not paying for the tickets," said Rick Vaughn, the team's vice president in charge of public relations.

    Benware said the school had been dealing with the team's fundraising department last year, when band members planned to sell 500 tickets for the team. The band received a cut of the sales and was to play the national anthem. The band fell short of the 500-ticket goal, but the team said it would let the band play anyway.

    Then the band learned each member would have to buy a ticket. The band is used to receiving a small donation for playing at events, not being charged. After the band canceled, Benware scheduled a meeting with team leaders.

    "We talked about the need for the students to identify with and be part of the community and that St. Petersburg High School and the dome and the ticketholders for the Devil Rays are all melded together even if they did not recognize that, that many of their ticket holders are graduates from here," Benware recalls. "It should be a privilege for them to have our students come down and play the national anthem."

    Now the Rays see it Benware's way.

    The club's charitable foundation, the Rays of Hope, plans to give the band a $500 donation. Many students' parents and friends plan to buy tickets to watch the performance and the game. And the Rays received a relatively inexpensive, if painful, lesson in building community goodwill.

    "The kids feel like they have been able to make a statement," Benware said.

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