WASHINGTON -- Lots of high school bands will march in Fourth of July parades Friday, but not many will have flown 2,000 miles to do it.
When the Willow Canyon High School marching band steps off Friday for the National Independence Day Parade in Washington, though, it will be a long from home in Surprise.
"It feels really great that a small Division III band, from Surprise, Arizona, can make to Washington, D.C., like this," said Charles Abarquez, a rising senior at the school.
He is one of 33 marching band members in Washington, the only Arizonans scheduled to march in the parade that goes down Constitution Avenue and ends near the White House.
"It's neat," said band director Zack Groves. "I'm proud of them."
Hundreds of bands from across the country applied for the 12 marching band spots in the parade, said Pat Wolverton, executive producer for Diversified Events, the company that sponsors the parade.
Willow Canyon made the final cut based on its many awards, including a state championship, and a recommendation from the governor's office, Wolverton said. But mostly they earned their spot because "they are just a good band," she said.
Groves said the students "worked and practiced hard to get here," and he is honored to be the only group representing Arizona. But he was also glad his students will get a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
"I wouldn't bring them all way out here simply to march," he said. "It's the package deal."
Groves said the band had no plans to practice until the morning of the march, opting instead to "take it all in."
Shortly after landing Wednesday, they toured Mount Vernon, and by noon Thursday they had already visited the Capitol and seen the World War II Memorial. Groves said the students "aren't going to stop" until they leave Saturday.
For recent grad Torie Immn even the flight to get here was part of the experience: It was her first trip on an airplane.
"It's crazy because I've never even been on this side of the United States before," said Immn, 18, adding that there have "been a lot of firsts."
"It's really cool learning a lot about history and stuff," she said, as she looked up at the Washington Monument. "When you're in the place it actually happened, it's a lot more interesting."
Despite all the firsts, Immn said the trip is also bittersweet, since it may be one of the last chances for "just having fun" with best friend and fellow band member, Erich Christiansen. He enlisted and will trade his midnight-blue band uniform for a Marine Corps uniform in December.
"I'm not going to be able to do this again," he said of the trip with his bandmates. But, he said, those people are one of the reasons he enlisted.
"(I'm) fighting for my friends," he said. "To give them the ability to live in this country that we all are so lucky to have."
He won't be fighting alone: Christiansen's twin brother, Max, also enlisted, and leaves for boot camp Monday.
Their mother, Lori Christiansen, a trip chaperone, said it is "heart-wrenching" to be in the capital with her son knowing that "he's going to war." But she couldn't be more proud.
"His desire to serve his school and his country is just incredible," said the mother of six as she watched her son and his bandmates laughing in the shadow of the Capitol.