THE MOUNT Hebron High School Marching Unit is starting the school year on a high note with a trip to Atlantic City, N.J., to take the "honor spot" in the Miss America Pageant Boardwalk Parade.
Each year, about 20 marching units, mainly from mid-Atlantic states, compete. They are judged on such criteria as musical presentation, general effect and marching technique.
To qualify for the honor spot, which is at the front of the parade, marching units must have won the previous year's competition.
"If you win the competition that year, you are invited to come back the following year as the honor band that leads the parade," said Barbara Commander, publicity coordinator for the marching unit and mother of Elizabeth, a senior who plays the flute and piccolo, and Sarah, a sophomore who plays the trombone.
Bob Johnston, who has been director of the marching unit for 29 years, said his marchers do well in the competition for several reasons.
"No. 1, we perform great music, such as the 'The Washington Post,' 'Stars and Stripes Forever,' et cetera," he said. "No. 2, we perform that music very well. And No. 3, we have a great general effect with our auxiliary groups - with the honor guard, the rifle team, the flag team and the drill team - that have routines that are coordinated to the music."
The marching unit consists of about 205 students, and includes the Viking Band, which plays the music; the Cavaliers, which consists of the honor guard; the rifle team and the flag team; and the Lancers, which is the drill team, Johnston said.
The honor guard leads the group and carries the school banner, the U.S. flag, the Maryland flag and the collection of Miss America flags that the unit has won over the years.
The groups practice separately and then get together as a group a couple of times a week after school. "It does take a lot of rehearsal," Johnston said. "The kids work hard and they take great pride in it. It's a lot of work, but it's a lot of fun."
This year, the parade is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. Sept. 20. "We're going to be taking five coaches in the morning," Johnston said. "We'll bus up there, the kids will eat lunch, enjoy a little time on the boardwalk, and then prepare for the 6 p.m. parade. We'll get back at approximately midnight."
The drive is about three to 3 1/2 hours, he said.
The annual parade includes Miss America contestants, as well as military groups, commercial floats and marching bands - which are spread throughout the lineup so that, in theory at least, their music won't overlap.
"We all pick our own music," Johnston said. "Part of it is how well our choice of music goes over with the crowd."
The band unit typically plays an American march, and this year's choice of "The Washington Post" by John Philip Sousa will be no exception.
The marchers won in 2000, but the parade was canceled last year because of concerns related to the Sept. 11 attacks. The marchers did not attend in 1999 because of Hurricane Floyd, Johnston said.
Otherwise, the marching unit has competed in every pageant, Johnston said. "They advertised for some bands back in, I think it was, 1977, and I approached the administration and they said go for it."
Deep Run remembers
Pupils at Deep Run Elementary School will memorialize the events of Sept. 11 by gathering to form Circles of Peace and Remembrance.
All children are invited to submit poems and compositions about that day, and the school's assistant principal, Pat Shifflett, will select several for schoolchildren to read at the scheduled outdoor ceremony. All are encouraged to wear red, white and blue that day.
Concert in the park
Country Current, the Navy's seven-member country music band, will perform Sept. 20 during a free concert at Rockburn Branch Park. The concert will begin at 7 p.m.; refreshments will be sold.
The concert is sponsored by Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks and Elkridge Adult Athletic Association. A $2 parking fee will benefit the Elkridge Adult Athletic Association Scholarship Fund.
Information: 410-313-7275; text telephone, 410-313-4665. Recorded announcement about a weather-related cancellation: 410-313-4452 after 4 p.m. on the day of the event.