Principal Gerald Schrum speaks darkly about "Bandgate."
As his Lincolnton, N.C., High School band prepares to leave for next Monday's inaugural parade, Schrum contends that the Wolfpack's rightful place is among the marching units, as originally planned, and not on the sidelines.
In Louisiana, Lt. Gov. Bobby Freeman is still trying to figure out why his invitation to ride in the procession was withdrawn.
And, in Blacksburg, Va., the Highty-Tighties -- the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets regimental band -- are mourning the death of a tradition. For the first time in more than 30 years, they won't be playing for the president.
As President Reagan's second inauguration nears, there is a flip side in some quarters to the excitement, the pageantry, the anticipation: hurt feelings.
In Lincolnton, a close-knit town of 4,879, the hurt feelings briefly turned vengeful. Offended residents initially vowed to boycott Republicans in the next election unless their high school band was reinstated in the parade. The town voted a solid GOP ticket in November.
"They've handled this whole inaugural thing in a very sleazy way," Schrum said yesterday. "First they told us we were the official state representatives in the parade and then they turned around 36 hours later and told us we weren't. They've made some concessions, but they've still done us dirty."
In each of the cases, the hurt, the angry, the bewildered, turn to the Presidential Inaugural Committee for answers.
"We're dealing with an event that has a limited resources -- the number of slots available," said Tucker Eskew, a committee spokesman. "In a nation where there are hundreds of thousands of talented politicos and ordinary people, we have to make some hard decisions. In a nation where there are all kinds of good equestrian teams and marching bands and float ideas, we have to make some hard decisions and we take the heat for them. We've made some mistakes, and we take the heat for them as well."
The Lincolnton controversy began on Dec. 17 when the Wolfpack Marching Band learned from three official sources, including state inauguration coordinator Eugene Johnston, that it had been selected as North Carolina's representative in the 50th Inaugural Parade. Town sirens went off, church bells pealed and the 165 band members entertained visions of appearing on national TV for the first time.
The euphoria lasted a day and a half, then the school was told that the A.L. Brown High School band in Kannapolis -- not Lincolnton -- would represent North Carolina. Lincolnton High was offered what school officials considered a lesser role to entertain spectators before the parade, an offer originally spurned but later accepted.
Immediately, school and band officials began to voice their suspicions to the local media that David Murdock, who owns Cannon Mills in Kannapolis, had influenced the decision. Brown High School officials had credited Murdock with nominating the school.
Murdock was the chairman of the Presidential Trust, a group of business leaders established by an arm of the Republican National Committee. The group raised the maximum $6.9 million in private funds allowed by law for the Reagan campaign. A spokesman for Murdock declined to comment yesterday.
"To say politics is a motivation is to insult the bands that are participating," said the inaugural committee's Eskew. "Our state coordinator made the mistake of informing two bands simultaneously that they had won the honor. It was never actually given to Lincolnton, so it was never taken away. It was a communications problem. I hope their feelings are no longer hurt."
Someday, maybe, but apparently not yet. "That's a lame-brain excuse," Principal Schrum said yesterday.
The Louisiana problem was another communication snafu, Eskew said.
Originally Gov. Edwin Edwards, a Democrat was invited to ride in the inaugural parade, along with governors of the other 49 states and the leaders of the District of Columbia and the five territories. When Edwards declined because of a conflict, Lt. Gov. Freeman, also a Democrat, was asked to participate.
"President Reagan is a Republican, but he's still my president and you honor your president," Freeman said yesterday. "I said I'd be glad to do it."
Then, Freeman received a call from the committee last week saying he was no longer invited. The caller, an unidentified woman, gave no reason, but suggested it might have had something to do with a dispute between the governor and lieutenant governor, a suggestion that baffled Freeman.
"We've been supporters of each other for years," Freeman said. "That's preposterous."
Eskew described the problem yesterday as a case of "one train with two tracks and somewhere along the line, they split. Two people making two different calls.
"The fact is, after the governor declined, we asked Chef Paul Prudhomme, the famous Cajun chef, to be the official representative for the State of Louisiana," he said.
"We'll take the heat on that one," Eskew added. "We really felt poorly about it."
The Highty-Tighties of Virginia Tech were not invited, Eskew said, for a simple reason: The inaugural committee set out to include units that had never performed in an inauguration before. In this case, the band's inaugural tradition, dating back to Woodrow Wilson's inauguration in 1917 and continuous since Eisenhower's first inauguration in 1953, worked against it.
"It's a bit demoralizing," said band director Wallace Easter, adding that he had not quite given up hope that his appeals to politicians and prominent individuals in Washington might succeed yet. "We're practicing, just in case."