Portage High School’s marching band did more than make an impression on national TV during the Chicago’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
They closed the show.
Before the event, Band Director Tom Shaver was informed the Portage entry would be placed directly in front of the Santa Claus float — the final piece in the parade.
“Somebody told me you’re bringing Santa into Chicago,” Shaver said.
“And I can’t believe I’m saying this,” a WGN announcer said during the broadcast, “but our final band in the parade is the Portage High School Warrior marching band from Portage, Wisconsin.”
One of the reasons Portage got picked to be the last band in the parade was because the organizers determined the school’s song choice — “Excelsior” by Robert W. Smith — was “fan-farish,” Shaver said, a song that would be a fitting conclusion for the parade. But there appeared to be more to their decision than that.
“A lot of people told me we were the best band in the parade,” he said.
Making its first-ever appearance in the Chicago parade, Portage received more than a minute of live TV coverage, which can be viewed at wgntv.com/2017/11/21/watch-wgn-tvs-2017-mcdonalds-thanksgiving-day-parade.
In the video, Portage is featured from 2:51:25 until 2:52:38. Shaver estimated that more than half of the band’s 103 students received screen time.
“It was fantastic,” Shaver said. “When you do something new, you don’t know what to expect, so I was a little worried about it.
“(But) the activities they did were inspirational, and these were definitely unforgettable experiences.”
Likely the best part of the parade was seeing and hearing the parents of the Portage students “cheering wildly,” Shaver said. Thursday’s weather was mild and sunny, bringing thousands to the streets of Chicago, he said.
“People were out in droves,” Shaver said. “The audience was at full capacity.”
The experience can’t hurt the school’s long-term goal to march in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. The earliest Portage could be accepted would be 2019.
After the parade, the students participated in a Thanksgiving Day cruise on Lake Michigan, another memorable highlight, Shaver said. Students were joined on the cruise by a marching band from Georgia, which led to an improvised “dance-off” between the schools.
“It was a really cool experience,” Shaver said. “I’d like to thank the parents and staff who kept our kids safe and made it a fun, enjoyable trip for everyone.”