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Mercer Island High School band participates in California's annual Rose Parade

Hours before the Washington Huskies take the field at the 105th Rose Bowl, a large cohort of local high schoolers will represent the Pacific Northwest in the massive celebration preceding the historic college football game.

The Mercer Island High School marching band will perform at the annual Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California, on New Year’s day. The group of roughly 300 students spent winter break practicing a selection of Seattle music, including Nirvana, Heart and Jimi Hendrix.

The Rose Parade draws hundreds of thousands of spectators along the parade route and is televised, garnering a national audience. Mercer Island is one of 20 marching bands invited to participate. The students rehearsed evenings and weekends in the days leading up to the trip — at times in an empty Boeing parking lot in Everett — to prep for the celebration, which also includes a band festival.

The parade participation also accompanies a partnership with a community band from Puerto Rico. Performers with Banda Escolar de Guayanilla were invited to the Rose Parade days before their island was devastated by Hurricane Maria in 2017. 

To help the Puerto Rican band get to Pasadena, Mercer Island parents and band directors formed the “Island to Island” fundraiser. So far, it has raised nearly $50,000.

“It’s been wonderful to meet these young people from Puerto Rico and hear their story of surviving the hurricane and how they have persevered to make it to Pasadena,” Craig Degginger, communications coordinator for the Mercer Island School District, said in an email. He added that it’s been equally wonderful seeing how the partnership has affected the local students.

Several students and teachers visited Puerto Rico last spring, and a delegation from the island came to Mercer Island for homecoming in October, Degginger noted.

The Rose Parade airs on ABC and NBC, among other networks, starting at 8 a.m. on Jan. 1. The Rose Bowl kicks off at 2 p.m. the same day, when the No. 9 Huskies will face No. 5 Ohio State.

Kari Plog is a former KNKX reporter who covered the people and systems in Pierce, Thurston and Kitsap counties, with an emphasis on police accountability.