CASPER, Wyo. -- They come from almost 30 states and two foreign countries.
This year, the Troopers Drum and Bugle Corps will have a Casper representative as well: 16-year-old Shane Spencer, who is finishing his junior year at Natrona County High.
Spencer, the oldest child and only son of Teri and Ty Spencer, started playing the French horn in fifth grade because "it looked cool," he said.
As a Natrona County High sophomore in the fall of 2009, he switched to the mellophone, the equivalent of a French horn for marching band, and was in the NCHS marching band.
Representatives of the Troopers sought him out in October 2010 at the State Marching Band Festival at the Casper Events Center.
"I went to their camp in December, and I haven't missed one," he said.
For parents Teri and Ty Spencer, coming up with the $2,400 yearly registration fee has been a challenge.
Teri helped Shane write a letter, printed it on paper with musical notes as the background and mailed about 85 copies "to every family member and friend who exists," Teri said.
In the letter, Shane writes, "I have been working diligently at Arby's part time to save money to pay this ($2,400) fee, but a cost this large is not easy to achieve and any help in reaching my goal would be greatly appreciated!"
The Spencers moved to Casper from their native Roseville, Mich., in 2007. Teri works for Summit Roofing, and Ty for Weatherford, an oil field company.
"We have through December to make the final payment, but that $2,400 is an extra $200 a month in an already-thin budget," Teri said.
The Spencers say they waited until they were sure that Shane would make the 2011 Troopers roster before sending fundraising letters.
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Shane describes the monthly weekend camps as "nerve-wracking."
"It's pretty tough," he said. "It's a lot of simple things like standing up straight, but there are a whole lot of simple things."
At the final camp the last weekend of April in Laramie, Spencer was asked to switch from mellophone to trumpet, an instrument that he has never played.
"So, now I'm pretty much self-teaching," he said. "They kind of decided for me, but I'm going to have to be flexible on the road, so this is just one more thing that changes."
His parents, meanwhile, are dealing not only with the financial challenge, but the challenge of sending their oldest child away for 10 weeks this summer.
"We know he's not on his own and that he's with a great group of people," Teri said, her eyes tearing. "It's us missing him. He won't have time to be homesick, but it will be hard on all of us."
Even Shane's little sister, Jessica, 13, will miss him, she says.
Meanwhile, Grandma has sent the Spencers a computer-generated U.S. map that hangs in the dining room. Each competitive stop is starred, and dotted lines draw the route of the four buses, two semitrailers, a kitchen on wheels and the sheep wagon full of souvenirs. A separate legend shows the towns where the tour stops.
"He will have a lot of relatives at the Grand Rapids (Mich.) show," Teri said. "And I think they want to volunteer for a couple of days, too."
Competitive world-class drum corps is a new world for the Spencers, but, much like their move from Michigan to Wyoming four years ago, one they embrace as a whole family.
"We love it here. It's the best thing we ever did," Ty Spencer said.