South Shore Drill Team chosen for inaugural parade

Tribune reporter

WASHINGTON — The South Shore Drill Team from Chicago will march in the inaugural parade for President Barack Obama, inauguration officials said today.

The team was among the first 24 groups whose participation in the Jan. 21 parade was announced. More than 2,800 applications to perform in the parade were received, according to the Presidential Inaugural Committee, which plans to announce more participants later.

The 32-year-old drill team, noted for its appearances in the Bud Billiken Parade, makes more than 120 performances annually, some overseas, said Sara Vlajcic, the team’s administrator director.

“We’re just thrilled for our kids,” Vlajcic said Monday. “We’re just breaking it to our kids and they cannot believe it.”

The drill team, with a membership of 300 young people aged 8 to 21, will send its 50 most senior members to Washington, Vlajcic said.

The team draws young people from the South Side and the suburbs, with membership arising from 36 ZIP codes, she said. It aims to keep kids off the streets and out of gangs and encourages them to graduate from high school, Vlajcic said. It had a 100 percent graduation rate last spring, she said.

While strutting their stuff with wooden rifles, flags and sabers, members of the drill team will don red, white and blue for what is the 57th inaugural parade.

How does it feel to perform for a fellow South Sider? “The news just overwhelmed us,” said Eric Thomas, 26, an instructor. “It’s good to have the president see what we’ve been doing for so long.”

The drill team performed for first lady Michelle Obama and NATO spouses when the group met in Chicago in May, Vlajcic said. It performed at McCormick Place in 2004 before Barack Obama when he was a state senator.

Vlajcic said the group would have to pay its own way and hoped to raise about $45,000 to underwrite the trip.

“We’ll be reaching out to our major funders, but then we’re going to be going to the community to help us raise money to help the kids go,” she said.

The drill team is based at 7218 S. South Chicago Ave. in the Gary Comer Youth Center.

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