SOUTH SHORE — When color guard member Takeyah Boston showed up to Monday’s South Shore Drill Team practice, she was not prepared to learn some “amazing” news: She and her teammates are set to perform during the NBA’s All-Star Weekend.
“All these camera crews started coming in. We didn’t know what was about to happen — were we about to get in trouble or something?” said Boston, a Kenwood Academy junior. “When we heard [about the All-Star Game], it was like not real at that point. So many of us were in tears or on the floor. Then they said Chance the Rapper, and people were doing backflips and rolling on the floor.”
The drill team will perform twice at next weekend’s All-Star Game festivities.
They’ll first perform at the Rising Stars Challenge Feb. 14, taking the same United Center court as young superstars like Trae Young and Luka Doncic. Two days later, at halftime of the All-Star Game, they’ll be on stage with Chance.
“Performing with Chance the Rapper, that’s a bucket list right there,” Boston said. “It is a dream come true. How many kids do you know who actually performed with a famous rapper?”
Stella Natufe, the team’s special events manager, said she’s been sitting on the news since the week before Thanksgiving. While none of the kids knew the specifics, they had a hunch something special was afoot when they kept practicing parade drills well after the Bud Billiken Parade.
“Kids kept asking, ‘Why are we working on this?'” Natufe said. “When we finally told them [Monday], everything clicked.”
The team rarely works on parade drills once cold weather hits; members shift focus to the upcoming Winter Guard International competitions. But this year, extra rehearsals were scheduled alongside competition prep.
“I kinda figured something was going on, but I couldn’t put my finger on it,” said Matthew Williams, a rifle line member and senior at Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep. “I never would’ve thought it would be the NBA All-Star Weekend.”
Team members are still unclear on many details, like the songs they’ll perform to and how long their performances will be.
Natufe isn’t concerned. Drill team members don’t learn by practicing to music, but rather to eight-counts, a technique which can easily transfer from style to style, she said.
“If they play jazz, it’ll work out. Hip-hop? It’ll work out. House? It’ll work out,” Natufe said. “Everything we do is an eight-count. We’re always prepared for any type of situation.”
Boston and her teammates spend six hours a day, three to four days a week practicing their routines. They have less than two weeks to prepare, but it’s hard to be intimidated when they’ve already put in so much work, she said.
“We all are professionals, and you just have to be prepared for anything,” she said.
Boston and Williams both said they hope to meet some celebrities during the weekend’s festivities.
Whether he does or not, the team will be okay — “we are part of one of the biggest events of the year,” Natufe said. “We’re celebrating our 40th anniversary this year as well. This is a great way to kick it off.”
The South Shore Drill Team was founded in 1980 by former Chicago Public Schools teacher Arthur Robertson. The program gives South Side youth a year-round outlet for staying busy and getting involved in the performing arts, Natufe said.
Williams, who said the drill team is like “a second family,” isn’t only a rifle line member. He wants to study fashion design in college, and has already gained experience through designing uniforms and sets for the team’s performances.
The All-Star Weekend performances give the world a chance to “see the good that’s happening on the South Side,” Williams said.
“There is positivity over here,” he said. “Not everything is negative, what they post on social media. There’s a good side too and we’re the proof.”
The team was featured in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” in 1986, performed at President Barack Obama’s second inauguration in 2012 and marched in the 2013 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. But the All-Star Game will be the program’s biggest stage yet, Natufe said.
“The NBA All-Star Game is a global event,” she said. “What I want the world to know: Don’t believe everything you see on TV about Chicago, especially the South Side of Chicago. It’s full of talented young people. Chance is a perfect example of that, and so are these kids.”