The 45 members of Freetown's Blue Angels marched to the beat of a different drummer Saturday -- their own.
The youths, ranging in age from 6 to 19, kicked off Freetown Fun Day Saturday afternoon by marching and dancing through the neighborhood, putting on a show for residents while proudly showing off their new blue and gold uniforms, banner and pompons.
"My mother wanted to keep me active," said 10-year-old Tevona Reid. "She didn't want me to do drugs." In the marching band, she said, "We get to show off our personality. We get to do things that others can't do."
Jennette Jones said she joined because "my mother wanted to keep me off the streets," but fellow band members had other reasons for giving up several hours three days a week to practice.
Sylvia Irizarry, 9, said she joined because she saw the group practicing near the youth center in Freetown.
"I thought it would be fun," she said, adding that it isn't quite as easy as it looked. "It is hard work, especially before a parade."
The Blue Angels got their start in Annapolis two years ago, when Derrick Smith, an outreach specialist for the county Health Department, decided to give children living in the city's public housing communities an alternative to hanging out on street corners.
bTC Smith decided to expand the group beyond the 30 youths in Annapolis. In Freetown, a county-run public housing development, he found 45 eager participants.
"Our goal is to reach a wide range of children," Smith said. "We wouldn't do that if we stayed in Annapolis."
Geraldine Graham, the whistle-blowing band leader who never fails to keep the rambunctious group in order, said members of the Annapolis contingent were turned down by other marching groups.
"They felt shunned," she said.
Young boys also felt rejected, Smith said, because there just wasn't a place for them. Now, the boys have their own marching instructor. As a result, more are joining up.
Members of the marching band have been training hard these past couple of weeks. Yesterday , the Blue Angels performed at an Elks-sponsored Organization Day Parade on Florida Avenue in Washington, and later this summer, they will march down the boardwalk in Ocean City.
"The children get to go places they normally wouldn't have a chance to see," Smith said. "Once you see the children's faces, it makes all the hard work worth it."
Most of the children interviewed said the Blue Angels will give them something worthwhile to do now that school is out.
And even the occasional sour note sounded by a band member has a sweet ending.
"I hate always having to start over," said 8-year-old Tycarra Scott. "But I want to participate."