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FOREST CITY | Dan Melby, a 2014 graduate of Forest City High School, has been back in his hometown for the past three weeks for Blue Stars Drum and Bugle Corps spring training.

It's something he's done every year since 2015 after being selected for the elite ensemble that includes young people from all over the country plus a few international members. 

However, this year he's in a new role.  

Melby, who graduated from Concordia College in Minnesota last month, is now an intern with the La Crosse, Wisconsin-based Blue Stars. 

He is one of 30 members of the teaching staff for the group.

"It's really cool," Melby said. "It's a different perspective." 

He said the best part of teaching is helping the young performers reach their full potential. 

This is the seventh consecutive year the Blue Stars has held spring training in Forest City before their annual summer tour. 

The members of the drum and bugle corp, who range in age from 15 to 21, stay in the dorms at the Waldorf University campus and use the football field for practice.

Sometimes they practice on the Forest City High School football field. 

Every year the group gives a public performance near the end of spring training so Forest City area residents can see what they have been rehearsing. 

Melby said he didn't know about the Blue Stars until he saw them perform in his hometown when he was still in high school.

"I knew I wanted to do it someday," he said.

During his freshman year of college, Melby went to Minneapolis to audition for the Blue Stars. 

He was selected and toured with the group each summer of his college career. Touring took him all over the country. 

He said it was a great experience for 150 people from all over the country and beyond to come together with one goal -- "to put on an incredible show."

The Blue Stars always finish their season by competing in the Drum Corps International World Championship in August in Indianapolis. 

Melby said this is emotional for everyone because they know it will be the last time they will be performing with that particular group of people.

Melby has accepted a job as a school band instructor in Virginia, Minnesota, starting this fall, but he wants to continue as a teacher with the Blue Stars during the summer. 

Drum corps, which has its roots in the military, "has a rich history," said Brad Furlano, executive director of the Blue Stars.

Today it is considered "the pinnacle of the marching arts," he said. 

A drum corps consists of three sections: brass, percussion and guard. Guard members carry rifles, sabers or flags while they march. 

Furlano said drum corps choreography is far more complex than what members are used to from their high school marching band days. 

This year the Blue Stars arrived in town on May 21. They depart on June 14.

Their Forest City public performance was on June 9. 

After a few performances in the La Crosse area, the Blue Stars will hit the road. This year's tour includes shows in Michigan, Indiana, Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, West Virginia and New York. 

Audition camps for the Blue Stars are held in six cities throughout the country in November. 

More than 600 young people auditioned but only 154 were selected for this year's ensemble, including a few members from Japan. 

Lexi Para, 18, who recently graduated from high school in the Dallas area, is one of the drum majors for the Blue Stars this year. 

She said she and the other members have been training all day every day, even when temperature reached the mid to high 90s.

Para said she's enjoying being around everyone with the Blue Stars.

"It's just super-welcoming," she said. 

Para said Forest City is a great place for spring training because "we have really nice (football) fields for three weeks."

She also said the Blue Stars can stay in dormitories while a lot of other drum corps "get stuck in a gym."

Furlano said Forest City "has been a great fit for us."

"We love being a part of this community," he said. 

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