The Pickerington High School North Marching Panthers rang in the New Year by being named Grand Champions of the 43rd Fort McDowell Fiesta Bowl Parade in Phoenix.

The Pickerington High School North Marching Panthers rang in the New Year by being named Grand Champions of the 43rd Fort McDowell Fiesta Bowl Parade in Phoenix.

Roughly 150 members of North's Marching Panthers were honored Dec. 28 with the overall first-place prize among bands participating in the Fiesta Bowl Parade.

The recognition as Grand Champion crowned an 18-month journey for students, their parents and PHS North Band Director Marc Parulekar after the band's submission in September 2012 landed them an invitation to perform in the parade.

Between that time and the band's flight to Phoenix the morning of Dec. 27, students and parents immersed themselves not only in preparation for the parade, but also for this past year's local high school football season and annual marching band competitions.

They also held mattress sales, worked concessions at Ohio State University athletic events and Columbus Clippers games and organized various other fundraising events to pay for the trip. No Pickerington Local School District funds were used according to band officials.

"It was really a neat experience for our kids to head out west and see a part of the country that's a little bit different," Parulekar said.

"The students came up with the funds through a combination of fundraisers, working jobs, their parents and various gifts from people and businesses in the community," he said.

"At the parade, the kids just worked really hard to perform music at a high level and march at a high level. It was nice to see the judges recognized that performance."

Parulekar said the band participated in the traditional Fiesta Bowl Parade, which according to the parade's website, featured 12 other high school bands from throughout the U.S., as well as the Kansas State University and University of Michigan marching bands.

Kansas State and Michigan squared off in the Buffalo Wind Wings Bowl, played at the Fiesta Bowl Dec. 28 after the parade, and Kansas State triumphed 31-14.

Parulekar said the Marching Panthers performed Panther Victory during the parade, which drew a warm response from Kansas State fans because the song is based off the Wildcats' fight song.

Then, Parulekar said, North's band went into the competition portion of the parade by playing Boys of the Old Brigade.

That performance impressed the judges enough for the Marching Panthers to be named Grand Champion.

"I think the students were excited," Parulekar said. "It was good to see their work paying off.

"They're a hardworking group. Their preparation to be great musicians is kind of a year-round effort."

In addition to those on hand for the parade and competition, the band was seen on Phoenix-area television and the event was streamed around the globe via Internet webcast.

Parulekar said his students also participated in Jeep tours red sandstorm formations in Sedona, Ariz., and took a trip by train to witness the Grand Canyon.

"It was really neat to see the kids take in the beauty of Arizona," he said. "Those really, I think, were integral experiences of the trip.

"I'm super proud of the efforts of our students and parents both to get out to Arizona and then do a fantastic job."