It is their crowning triumph. The 110 members of the Eugene Burroughs Junior High School choir have been selected as the official Maryland representatives at the World's Fair in Tennessee next year.
The selection is the culmination of years of enthusiastic singing at the Accokeek school. The choir has earned "superior" ratings in every Prince George's choral competition for the past 10 years. It has performed at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City and on the steps of the state capitol in Austin, Tex. Last year, it won first prize in the National/International Music Festival in Wildwood, N.J.
At the World's Fair, the singers will take part in another choir competition, to be held at the University of Tennessee.
The string of musical victories has made singing more popular than any sport at Eugene Burroughs. Choir is the one class almost every student signs up for, and the choir is the most active group on campus. It has become a tradition that no student dares let down.
"It's the central and focal point of the school," says Principal W. Donald Lloyd, who adds he's a meager singer himself. "It's an elite group."
Last Saturday, choir members, friends, parents and admirers gathered at the German Orphans Home in the Roblee Acres area for a fund-raising auction, and to sing a few songs. The students need $35,000 to make the trip to Knoxville in May.
Bidding was brisk throughout the day. A Barry Manilow T-shirt, autographed in black felt-tip pen by the singer himself, was the object of 15 minutes of frantic bidding. It eventually was purchased for $60 by Juanita Lipphard.
Lipphard's daughter Melanie, a student and choir member, wrote to Manilow to get the autograph, and Lipphard said she would give the shirt to another daughter, adding, "I would have paid more for it."
The buying and selling went on noisily for six hours. A Maryland flag had been donated by Gov. Harry Hughes and a U.S. flag by Rep. Roy Dyson (D-Md.). A 1956 Playboy magazine went for $15.
"I'm getting such a headache," said Choir Director Mary Oyler, above the singsong of the auctioneers, late in the morning. "Let's get them to stop for a while and let the choir sing."
Then the choir, minus 25 members who were on a field trip to New York City, gathered behind a large pool table and a sewing machine to sing "Ride That Chariot," a traditional spiritual, and "The Lord Bless You and Keep You."
"They study the hard stuff," Oyler said of her students. "For some reason they don't like the easy choral music. There's been a (musical) tradition and they want to beat the year before them."
Bob Wachowski, a ninth-grader who is the choir's president, credited Oyler with helping the singers achieve their best through hard work and discipline.
"She works us until we know it," he said. Choir is a regular class at the school: one hour a day, five days a week for those who sign up. If students don't take it seriously enough, he said, "They lose points and lower their grade. And if they lose too many points, they're out of the choir."
It's a selective class. "Almost everyone signs up, but not all are admitted," Wachowski said. He said the choir is the school's most active organization, adding, "There's hardly any more sports."
"Everyone wants to be just as good as the year past," he said, "and most of the people want to learn how to read music and sing."
When the last item was auctioned off Saturday -- a blue spruce that went for $50 at 4 p.m. -- the kitty contained $4,600 more. But the choir still had only one-fifth of the money it needs, according to Bonnie Sedgewick, a parent and publicity chairman of the Concert Choir Boosters. "We were anticipating quite a bit more," she said.
There will be a Winter Concert at Friendly High School on Dec. 17 to raise money, and the choir plans barn dances, car raffles and more auctions. CAPTION: Pictures 1 and 2, Choir director Mary Oyler with members of the Eugene Burroughs choir; Picture 3, Melanie Lipphard wit her autographed Barry Manilow T-shirt which her mother paid $60 for at a fund-raising auction for the choir. Photos by Michael F. Parks -- The Washington Post