Making big noise in the big city

Four students perform in famous Thanksgiving Day Parade with a Wisconsin-based band



Story by Courtney Kueppers, Managing Editor

Balloons, bands and Blugolds recently starred in an event that streamed in homes across America.

Those eight current and former Blugolds had an audience of more than 50 million people nationwide last Thursday for the performance of their lives.

They were among the likes of Gene Simmons in full makeup and the iconic oversized character balloons as they marched with 426 members of a Wisconsin-based band in the 88th annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

“Indescribable,” Sean Conway, senior education major, said of the experience.

Conway along with James Halverson, David Lofy and Kurtis Polishinkski were the four current UW-Eau Claire students who participated in the parade, with four alumni.

The students had this opportunity to march in front of millions, donning the group’s white and green uniforms, because they are all current or former members of The Madison Scouts Drum & Bugle Corps. The Madison Scouts is a premiere youth group based on performing. It selects its members from an audition process, and each summer the group tours the country.

More than two years ago a former director of The Madison Scouts contacted the folks at Macy’s to vie for the group to have a spot in the famous parade.

“This is the biggest coverage our group will ever see,” Halverson said, noting the group was the “Santa band,” marching in front of the parade’s famous grand finale: Santa on his sleigh. “It was just fun to be there and be in the city.”

The experience culminated in the band standing on the steps of The New York Post Office, playing a song and literally stopping traffic, Halverson said, noting it made him and the others “feel like little celebrities for a bit.”

The opportunity to march the streets of the Big Apple was open to anyone who has ever been involved with the scouts. It attracted 329 alumni, 97 current members ranging from 15-75 years old and from 40 states and six different countries.

The group’s executive director, Chris Komnick, said in a press release the parade provided a great opportunity to celebrate the 76-year history of the corps.

Conway said the nearly 3-mile trek from Central Park to Macy’s Herald Square was cold, but thrilling, an experience he is “struggling to put into words.”

The New Yorkers and tourists alike who lined the parade route cheered excitedly the entire time, Conway recalled. He said the energy from the crowd was exhilarating and so loud that he was unable to hear his own mother’s encouraging words from the sidelines.

Mostly, it offered the group a chance to reunite with people they hadn’t seen for a while or alumni they had never met, Conway said, noting rekindling those relationships was a highlight for him.

“After thinking my time was done with marching, this was a really rare opportunity,” Conway said.

“It was a once in a lifetime opportunity, so I wanted to seize it,” Halverson echoed.