NEW YORK – “It was the experience of a lifetime,” Chalaun Lomax said.
“Amazing, amazing, amazing,” she continued, excited and out of breath.
“When we lined up, I saw all of the floats and celebrities – I saw Jimmy Fallon on a float and Kelli Pickler on a float – and that’s when it hit me:
‘This is actually happening!” said Lomax, a junior and an alto sax player.
Surely the other 270 members of the Lakota West High School marching band felt the same way after performing in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Thursday morning.
“Unbelievable. Electrifying. Unreal!” Chris Pickens said.
Carri Geis said “it happened so fast. It’s almost like a blur.”
With 3.5 million spectators cheering them and their parents calling out their names along the route – and an estimated 50 million watching on TV - the student musicians and color guard members from West Chester and Liberty townships marched the 2 ½ mile route from Central Park to Herald Park.
Then, "things got a little chaotic,” Lomax said.
“We had to run from the parade break to our show formation. We didn’t have much time,” she said.
"Mr. Snyder almost had a heart attack,” Pickens said, referring to band director Greg Snyder.
“There was a float in front of us just when we got to Herald Square and Mr. Snyder blew the whistle for us to go, but the music was so loud. The producer said: 'Go, band, go!' Mr. Snyder blew the whistle again and everybody ran.”
But they made their cue, and at 10:12 a.m., the Marching Firebirds appeared in front of TV screens all over the world for their 75-second solo.
As the band played Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” TV viewers saw an overhead shot of the horn players moving in line. From the ground, another camera captured the color guard, wearing ear muffs against the cold, dancing and twirling their flags - purple with red bows - in unison.
Almost before you could say “experience of a lifetime,” it was over, the band marched off in front of "TODAY" show hosts Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie, and the teens had a story to tell their children and grandchildren.
“I felt a combination of excitement that we did it and relief that it was over. We were kinda stressing,” Lomax said.
“But now I can always say I marched in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.”
Pickens, a senior alto sax player, said he was amazed to see so many people along the route.
"We can't turn our heads while we're marching, but we can turn our eyes. People were hanging out of every building staring down at us. There was an endless amount of people," he said.
That included a lot of Lakota West parents.
Pickens said he heard his mom shout his name from the crowd.
Geis, a senior in the color guard, said she spotted her family along the way.
Laura Roth was waiting on 6th Avenue to cheer for her daughter Emma, a sophomore flute player, and the rest of the band. She said she left the hotel about 6 a.m. and walked 22 blocks to get to their spot.
“People were pretty cutthroat about marking their spot,” Roth said. “We were standing about five deep. Fortunately, some nice people let us move up to the front when our band came by.
“I’m biased, of course, but I think our band looked the best. All their hard work paid off. I hope the kids appreciate what Mr. Snyder did for them. He worked them pretty hard.”
The band had to get up at 1 a.m. and go to a 10-minute, full-dress rehearsal at Herald Square. When they got back to the hotel, most of them were too excited to go back to sleep, Pickens said.
“They’re exhausted,” Roth said. “They had to go back to the hotel after the parade for mandatory down-time. Then we’re all going out to have Thanksgiving dinner together.”
The band members and the traveling party – about 300 – were going to a restaurant later for turkey and all the trimmings. The teens had to dress up, too, because they were going have a dance party with a DJ afterward.
The band has had an exciting and memorable week in New York, and it’s not over.
They have visited the Empire State Building, the 9/11 Memorial and Ellis Island, and seen a Broadway musical.
On Friday, they will watch the Rockettes in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular before the bus ride home.
Lakota West has already been invited to march in the Tournament of Roses Parade in 2015, so the underclassmen have another amazing thrill to look forward to.
But not the seniors. For them, marching off Herald Square was a little bittersweet.
Asked what she’ll remember about Macy’s, Geis said:
"It was really cold. I'll remember that and seeing all the people and that this was my last performance with the band.
"I'm definitely upset that this is my last year. But I'm so glad I got to have this experience and so thankful I got to share it with my best friends."
RELATED: See more on the band’s Twitter page at https://twitter.com/#lwnyc