Beating The Odds ... And The Drums

The Bonnie Brae Knights from Liberty Corner, N.J., are not exactly professionals, but they're on their way. And they're making a national debut at the Jan. 20 Inaugural Parade.

There are some very elite drum lines in America, and the Bonnie Brae Knights from Liberty Corner, N.J., are definitely not one of them.

CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman asked one of the bandmembers: "What was your drumming experience before you joined?"

"Zero," he said.

"Nope, never touched a drum before," another said.

Hartman asked another: "What do you know about drumming?"

"It's a verb," the kid replied, laughing.

This band isn't like any other. They'll take anyone - for any reason.

They're just a rag-tag group of bad-news-snares. But the Knights do have one huge fan.

His name is Bill Powers. He's the school director. And he believes in these kids so much, not long ago he tried to get them a spot in President-elect Barack Obama's inaugural parade.

"The reason I applied and I thought they might have a chance is Obama's campaign themes of 'hope' and 'change,' and that's really what we're about here," Powers said.

Bonnie Brae isn't a regular school. It's a residential treatment center for boys who've been abandoned or abused - angry kids that have usually been kicked out of multiple foster homes.

It's something of a home of last resort.

"Yeah, it really is," Powers said. "For some kids it really is their last chance for them to make something of themselves."

Which is why Powers so wanted to get his kids in the inaugural parade. In fact he wanted it so badly he even lied on the application - three times - in the first paragraph.

Powers wrote "The Knights are a marching drum line…" Well, they never march. "…composed of 12 drummers." They had just six at the time. He also wrote: "They wear colorful blue and yellow uniforms." Really, they were just t-shirts.

The drum line didn't even have decent drums, or even enough sticks to go around ... all minor details Powers figured he would fix if by some miracle if the group ever got accepted.

Which … it did.

"Uh oh. Now we have to produce, you know (laughter)," he said.

The drum line - now with eight new recruits - has been practicing every day, often twice a day.

They've made tremendous strides in their drumming and are now working on their strides - marching back and forth across the gym. People have donated drums and sticks. Real uniforms are on the way.

And new attitudes are all around.

"They're already feeling so much better about themselves because of this," Powers said.

"I have to work hard I can't mess up no more," one band member said.

Another told Hartman: "I'm really sticking with this one because I really want to do it."

Change - it may be coming to Washington next week - but, obviously, it's in New Jersey already.

  • Steve Hartman
    Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.