"The feeling of the band was sheer joy. Finally, one of the miracles we asked for had come true."
Marion D. Williams, a student at Eastern High School, wrote those words, and made some of the music that made the words possible. Williams is one of the 85 Eastern band members who readers of this column helped send to a festival early this month in Orlando, Fla.
The young musicians have been home for several days now. The souvenir oranges have been eaten. The snapshots have been developed. The discomfort of 40 hours in a bus doesn't seem as bad in retrospect as it did at the time.
But Eastern's bands didn't just go to Florida, folks.
They won the whole ball of wax.
That's right. Of approximately 65 high school bands from all over the East Coast, Eastern's three bands (stage, concert and marching) were judged the best of all.
They won the blue ribbon.
They came home Numero Uno.
They brought home all the bacon there was to bring.
You readers may have thought you were sending mere mortals down to the land of Disney World. It turns out you were sending champions.
"I'm overwhelmed," said Bob Sands, Eastern's band director, the day the musicians returned. "It was very worthwhile. They got the chance to see that work is worthwhile."
"With many prayers and last-minute rehearsals," wrote Sonsyrea Yates, in her version of a report I asked all band members to write, "we got our miracle."
"Our practicing hard did it for us," wrote Donald Johnson, who plays the flute in the marching band. "We couldn't ask for any more."
A lot of you cynics might not be moved by Eastern's success. Flash in the pan, you might say. What good is it if the same young musicians can't read or add very well? Why are they blowing into trumpets while unemployment soars toward 10 percent, and may swallow some of them up as soon as they graduate?
Donald Johnson is why.
His mother is Betty Gaskins of Northeast, a woman with a laugh so deep and rich that I'll bet it could knock down a street light. When I asked her the other day if Donald is serious about his music, all the street lights for two blocks around started trembling. Finally, Betty Gaskins looked at me and said:
"I have four children, and Donald is the only one who ever showed any interest in going to college. I'm on welfare, so nothing I can do. But music is the thing for Donald. He might get a scholarship. So is he serious? Wouldn't you be?"
Bob Sands said before leaving for Orlando that Morgan State College in Baltimore was "seriously interested" in offering Donald Johnson a scholarship. Now that he's a bona fide champion, the Morgan admissions office can only be more interested.
So Orlando wasn't just a romp in the park. It may well turn out to be a first step up for Donald Johnson and several of his fellow musicians.
I'm delighted about Eastern's championship. I'd be twice as delighted if it propels Donald Johnson and dozens like him toward a life of learning and achievement.