Jackson’s Lion Band Takes To Washington, D.C.

The Jackson Liberty High School’s marching band performs in Washington, D.C. on Memorial Day. (Photo by Brian Lundy)

JACKSON – Well-wishers filled Jackson Liberty’s auditorium to show support for the Lion Band’s Memorial Day weekend visit to the nation’s capital.

The band represented New Jersey in the 2017 National Memorial Day Parade, which took place at 2 p.m. on May 29, down historic Constitution Avenue, one of the city’s major east-west streets that borders the National Mall and extends to the Capitol.

This was the second time in the school’s and band’s 10-year history that the Lion Band played on the national stage. It was part of the National Independence Day Parade, also in Washington, D.C., back in 2012.

“Every year I’m in awe of how they play,” JLHS assistant principal Geoff Brignola said. “How can they keep this up? But they get better and better every year.”

Chandler Purry, flutist, spoke on the importance of music at the send-off ceremony for the Jackson Liberty High School Lion Band. (Photo by Jennifer Peacock)

During the hour-long send-off, the Lion Band played patriotic standards, including what the band performed at the parade. In between sets, praise came from school district officials and proclamations from local, county, state and federal officials.

Jackson Mayor Michael Reina, who was unable to attend the send-off ceremony, offered the band a proclamation, as did the Ocean County Freeholders. The band also received letters of recognition from the 12th District assemblymen, Gov. Chris Christie, and Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker.

Flags to carry during the parade were presented by the freeholders, as well as Knights of Columbus, Jackson Council 6201.

Jeffrey Sagnip Hollendonner, representing Rep. Chris Smith’s office, presented an American flag which was flown at the Capitol on the band’s behalf. “The music is beautiful. The congressman has represented many counties over his 30 years in Congress. I can’t remember having ever heard better music coming from a high school band. You should be proud,” he said to the band teacher, Scott Katona. “The band is quite remarkable.”

Jackson Liberty High School band director Scott Katona conducts the award-winning band during its send-off ceremony on May 26 at the high school. The band will be performing at the 2017 National Memorial Day Parade in Washington, D.C., as the official representative from the state of New Jersey. (Photo by Jennifer Peacock)

He read from Smith’s proclamation: “The Lion band has earned an honor to represent their school, our regional friends and neighbors, and, indeed, the entire Garden State.”

Katona said that much hard work and many hours go into preparing for not only the band’s competitions – many of which it has won – but parades such as the Memorial Day Parade, now in its 13th year. The parade is hosted by the American Veterans Center in Arlington, Virginia.

“Each year the band’s success has grown higher and higher, and the bar has been raised. The success of the band really stems from the alumni, the parents that were involved, and everything that leads us up to what we are today,” Katona said. “If we didn’t have the standards we had with them, there’d be nothing to work for.”

The Jackson Liberty High School Lion Band played a selection of patriotic standards during its send-off ceremony at the high school. (Photo by Jennifer Peacock)

Students, staff and chaperones went down to Washington, D.C. on May 27 to play tourist before they performed on Memorial Day.

“I’m proud of the students. Throughout the whole year they’ve worked so hard for me, and this is the culmination of the year, to be put on the national spotlight,” Katona said. “We’ve done parades and competitions throughout the year, but this is like the icing on the cake, so, I’m proud of them. I thank them for working as hard as they do.”

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Ocean County native Jennifer Peacock is a community journalist and photographer. She’s written for weekly and daily newspapers in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia for more than 20 years. Readers can contact her at [email protected]