When Ray Washington Jr. was a young boy at Maple Elementary School in Cambridge, he couldn't have possibly known that 25 years later he'd be directing a drumline of kids at that very same school to open up a Baltimore Ravens game.
On a rare Saturday, Christmas weekend game tomorrow, Washington will lead nearly 50 fourth- and fifth-graders, known as the Marching Lions, in a performance of "Jingle Bells" around 3 p.m. and then the young students will march with the Ravens Marching Band going into the game and again at halftime.
As a music major at Morgan State University, Washington said he jumped on the opportunity to start the marching band at Maple two years ago.
"Most schools do a couple performances a year, but I wanted more than that," Washington says. "So we started building, just started with a drumline, then more instruments, then got uniforms. Now we play almost every day."
The young percussionists are a welcome addition to tomorrow's game against the Indianapolis Colts, considering the Ravens will likely play without veteran wide receiver Jeremy Maclin due to a knee injury. But the team should stand a good chance against the "unlucky" 3-11 Colts.
"The Marching Lions are a talented, fun group of students who have a unique energy about them," said Ravens director of public relations Patrick Gleason in an email. "We’re excited for our fans to experience their performance as part of Saturday’s pre-game and halftime entertainment."
Washington, himself, is a Ravens fan and said he's been trying to convey to the kids just how intense an experience it will be to perform before and during the game.
"I remember going to my first game when I was 20 years old and I was shocked at how big the stadium was," he says. "When the kids see the stadium and all the fans, they're going to flip out."
One of the members of the Marching Lions, 11-year-old Tay'Brion Wongus plays the snare drum and says he's "excited" and "a little bit nervous" for his band's big debut tomorrow. He says that paying attention to Washington is important.
"I practice, like, every day," he says. "We need to listen to Mr. Washington because, if we don't, we might be off beat with the rest of the band."
Beyond rhythm, however, Washington says that teaching these kids, some as young as 9, the power of discipline and routine has been incredibly rewarding.
"We pretty much run the practice the same way we ran it at Morgan, so it's real tough," he says. "But the whole prep part really makes them see the benefits of hard work and practice. And they see the results, which motivates them even more."