The helmets are clashing on the Manatee High School football field as the team finishes practicing for Friday’s big road matchup against Newsome High School in Hillsborough County. The screech of whistles is drowned out by the rhythmic sounds wafting over the grandstand.
Athena Falden blares on her flute as she steps in time with her band mates. The Manatee senior is preparing for the biggest show of her life.
“I'm like, I gotta go,” she said. "It's up there. I think it would be the best. I don't think I would trade this for anything."
The Manatee marching band is practicing for the ultimate New Year’s Day performance. The band has been invited to play at the parade welcoming-in 2017 in Rome, Italy.
It’s a trip they never thought would happen.
“I'm so excited that it sounds nervous,” said dance team member Sara Trinci. "I didn't really believe anyone (that we were going). It's so cool."
The biggest obstacle is money. It will cost Manatee students $3,500 each to make the over 5,200-mile trip a reality. The band plans to leave Dec. 27 and return to Florida on Jan. 3. Students have been trying to raise money with fundraisers to make their dream trip come true.
“I still owe like $1,200," said senior flute player Savannah Kiwacz.
The Manatee marching band has made trips to Europe before to perform. Most recently, in 2009, the school performed in London.
"Hands down this was my best memory from high school going on an international trip with my classmates," said former Manatee dancer Kymberli Nance, who traveled to London in 2002 and is now the Tampa Bay Buccaneers cheerleading captain. "It's one of my best memories and I wouldn't trade that memory for anything.
"I'm so jealous. Rome would be amazing."
None of the current band members has been overseas to play. The chance to do it when the calendar turns to 2017 is something the band members can’t wait for.
“It's basically what we've worked for for so long,” said senior Josh Ambroci.
The school is looking for help paying for the trip for the students. If interested in donating, contact the vice president of the Manatee band booster club, John VanHouten, at 941-524-0113 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.