Ryan Dukes couldn't have summed it up any better: "Washington or bust!"
The high school bandleader made the declaration Wednesday afternoon, a few hours before the 53 members of the Westside High School marching band boarded a bus for the nation's capital and the presidential inauguration.
"The kids are bouncing off the walls," Mr. Dukes said. "They're really excited about this."
Mr. Dukes said he had entered a contest sponsored by National Events, a company out of Utah that organizes festivals and trips for high school bands. All he had to do was fill out the application and send in a performance tape.
"And we were selected," he said. "There are 50 or 60 different activities going on at once. This is a big time of year up there."
Originally, the band had hoped to be part of the parade ceremony, but it did not get selected. Mr. Dukes said 38 bands from across the country were selected for that honor.
"Once we started getting into it, we realized we didn't really want to be in the parade," he said. "We would have had to give up our tickets."
The tickets to the inauguration ceremony itself came thanks to the efforts of U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga.
"That's one of the biggest reasons we're going for," Mr. Dukes said. "We have tickets. If we were in the parade, we would've had to give our tickets up. I want the kids to see (the ceremony). That's a once-in-a-lifetime thing."
Alfreda Thomas, a senior at Westside and a member of the band, said she's eager to take the trip..
"I really wasn't expecting to go at all," she said. "My family wants me to take lots of pictures. I'm looking forward to it."
Ms. Thomas said she hopes to see the White House, the Lincoln Memorial and the other sights of the city.
"We're all really excited about it," she said.
The "once-in-a-lifetime" inauguration ceremonies will begin today and end Saturday, when George W. Bush will take the oath of office and become the nation's 43rd president.
Reach Justin Martin at (706) 823-3552.