Mater Dei performs at AES Parade in Indianapolis

Mater Dei High School senior Caleb Mullenix, wearing the hat, has been in drumline for six years. He grew up watching the Indianapolis 500 parade, but he never dreamed he would get to perform in it. The Message photo by Megan Erbacher

By Megan Erbacher

The Message editor

Growing up, Mater Dei High School senior Caleb Mullenix always watched the AES 500 Festival Parade on television the day before watching the Indianapolis 500 race, but he never dreamed he would get the opportunity to perform in it.

On May 25, along with about 64 of his fellow Marching Wildcats, Mullenix performed in the 2024 AES 500 Festival Parade in Indianapolis. The parade ranks among the nation’s most prominent parades, according to organizers, and receives national recognition amongst the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

“Oh gosh, from growing up and watching the parade, to now being a part of it, it’s such a crazy experience,” Mullenix said. “Being able to perform in front of so many people, just this little school from Evansville, Indiana, getting to be on national TV, it’s just crazy. We’re all very excited about it.”

Mullenix is in his sixth year of the drumline. He plays the tenors.

“I’ve never been part of something this big,” he said. “I've watched it. Growing up, I’ve always watched the parade and the race, but I never dreamed of even being part of it. So I’m very excited about that.”

Pride. That’s what Mater Dei Band Director Allison Field took away from the Marching Wildcats performing in the AES 500 Festival Parade.

Field said the kids did a “great job representing” Mater Dei. They performed the Mater Dei School song, “Go Northwestern Go” and “Life is a Highway.”

Before the parade, Field admitted everyone was unsure of what to expect. The March Wildcats were staged with other bands from Indiana high schools, as well as a group of Marine band members.

“During the parade, all I could think of was how huge the crowds were,” she said. “I've never experienced such a large crowd for a parade before. It was impressive! After the parade was finished, all I could think was, ‘I'm so proud of our students and glad we were able to experience this together.’ We were all pretty tired because it was a long and slower-moving parade, so I was proud of the students’ hard work to get through to the end.”

Earlier in the fall, Field explained the Marching Wildcats were invited to perform at the AES 500 Festival Parade, which is held the Saturday before the Indianapolis 500 race. She recalled that the coordinator for the Indy 500 parade wanted new bands to perform, so they decided to invite representatives from each band class within the Indiana State School Music Association. Mater Dei represented Class D.

Field said it was a “huge honor” to be invited and the students were “really jazzed.”

Parade organizers boast that more than 200,000 spectators lined the streets of downtown Indianapolis to witness the top-notch bands perform, extravagant floats, enormous helium balloons, renowned figures, esteemed guests and all 33 Indy 500 drivers.

“My favorite moment was when we were on the TV broadcast block,” Field said. “We were actually stopped there for a while and kept playing our music for the crowd. The crowd applause and crowd participation was incredible!”

Field just finished her eighth year as band director for Mater Dei. She previously taught for nine years in Illinois.

She said it was a memorable experience. 

“My biggest takeaway from this experience is pride,” she said. “I’m proud of our students for participating and showing the nation who we are and what our small school can do.”

Field thanked parents, band boosters, the school community and families for supporting the students.

“It is really just an honor,” she said. “This small school from the southern tip of Indiana is not always recognized for some of our performing arts groups that are really spectacular. We have great athletics and academics, but now we’re getting a little recognition for some of our performing groups, and I think it’s great.”

Mater Dei High School’s Marching Wildcats rehearse in the gymnasium May 23 because of inclement weather. It was their final rehearsal before traveling to Indianapolis to perform at the 2024 AES 500 Festival Parade. The Message photo by Megan Erbacher