Hard work and dedication are about to pay off for two local high school marching bands in Tampa, Florida, this week for the Outback Bowl.

Ardmore and Athens will represent Limestone County on Jan. 1 in Tampa, Florida, when the Auburn Tigers face the Wisconsin Badgers. The game is live at 11 a.m. CST on ESPN2.

The trip is the culmination of not only some hard-core fundraising by the students, but also serious dedication to honing their skills, both Ardmore and Athens band directors said.

Going to Tampa is especially meaningful to the Ardmore Tigers after a recent scandal involving their former band director left organizers uncertain if the children could afford to go.

Limestone County stepped up to help and donations poured in so every student who had originally signed up to participate could make the Florida trip, interim band director Gavin Kyle said.

“The morale is really high and they’re having fun with it,” Kyle said. “They’ve all been working very hard.”

Being in Tampa isn’t only about making a bowl appearance, even though it is the highlight, organizers said. Students are also given the opportunity to visit theme parks and museums through the BrightSpark company, which organizes the trip.

But as BrightSpark’s media coordinator John Moretti told The News Courier on Friday, it won’t all be light-hearted. Bands had to supply an application to go to the game. Then they had to raise the money to get there. The bands will compete with roughly 2,800 other band kids from across the country in a New Year’s parade before the game.

“What’s neat is the kids get to meet bands from as far away as Minnesota or New York,” Moretti said. “Educationally, it’s just nice to see some peers.”

The performances are not limited to high school bands, however. During halftime, the students will perform with Auburn and Wisconsin's marching bands. The opportunity to play with college bands and perform in a bowl game is exciting for the teens, Moretti said.

“They’re just beyond the moon,” he said.

Athens High School band director Steve Williams said he believes Athens is a prestigious name in high school band competitions and he is just “trying to keep the tradition alive.”

“I just feel honored that they get to go do something with a national name,” he said. “I’m proud of them and excited that they have that name.”

Athens and Ardmore bands will perform a medley of patriotic songs during the New Year’s competition parade. At the bowl game, the students will perform pirate-themed tunes during the halftime show.