THE TOURNAMENT OF ROSES

by Rebecca Hart

A twelve year-old girl marches in the Tournament of Roses. Not so unusual unless that twelve year-old is Rebecca Hart and is totally blind. On second thought, not so unusual even then-thanks to the National Federation of the Blind. We are changing what it means to be blind.

I just finished the most tiring, but exciting, two weeks of my life. I am in a Colonial Fife and Drum Corps called the Patriots. Mr. and Mrs. Evans, the band leaders, have been trying to get into the Tournament of Roses Parade for 17 years and finally they made it. I joined in January. I got asked to go on April 22.

This is an average parade year. It begins with the St. Patrick's Day Parade in March; the Apple Blossom and the Memorial Day Parades in May; the Fourth of July Parade; an overnight trip and parade during the summer; the Labor Day Parade in September; the Halloween Parade in October; the Brunswick Parade in November; and the Christmas Parade in December. We have three practices a year which are about an hour and a half to three hours long. We also have our weekly music or drum lessons.

Getting ready for the Tournament of Roses was different. To begin with, the Rose Bowl crew had to stay at practice two hours after everyone else had gone. We had practices every Sunday in July, plus a few more after school started. It was OK, though, because everybody got to meet everybody else who was going. I should probably say here that there are 500 members in the Patriots, but only 175 went to California with 30 chaperons. When I was asked to go to the Tournament of Roses Parade it did not hit me until later what I was going to do. What I mean is that I did not know that the Tournament of Roses Parade was the biggest parade in the world.

When I march I carry Big Flag with seven other girls. It is also called the Colonial Colors. There are four poles on the flag and it takes two girls to carry each pole. The poles are threaded through the flag, and we carry the flag like it is lying down. When I first started in the Patriots I was on a banner with one or two other people. Then after my first year I asked Mrs. Evans if I could be on Big Flag, and she said yes.

During the first couple practices, when it was time for a break, my hands were shaking because I had been carrying the flag so long. In August the Big Flag girls had to go to practices with the fifers where we practiced marching. In November we had to march five and a half miles to prove that we could do it (the Tournament of Roses Parade route is five and one half miles long). We only had to do this once. On December 16 we had our last practice before leaving for California.

The parade started at about 8 a.m. California time. We were unit 78. Before we started marching we each got some candy from the Evans' to get our blood sugar high. As I said before, the parade route was five and a half miles long, but it did not seem like it because people were saying "Hi" and "Happy New Year" and things like that. I was kind of nervous when we were in front of the cameras, but I did fine. Some time later along the parade route someone yelled "Hi Becky Hart," but I do not know who it was. I think the hardest part of the parade was marking time. That is when you march in place, and it is tiring because you build up this kind of rhythm and it is almost painful to stop. Once when we were marking time a parade official sprayed me in the face with water. He thought I looked "out of it." He did not know I was blind. When he found out he felt bad. But I was not startled; it felt good. I was the only one who was cool after that.

After the parade I went swimming. The motel had a pool and a hot tub, and while I was in the hot tub I talked to some girls. We wished we could miss the train on Thursday. That night we went to Medieval Times. We pretended it was 1093. We ate dinner with our hands because silverware was not invented yet. Then we watched the knights perform.

It was a wonderful trip. I hope I will get to do this some time again soon.