DCI 2008 as a fan

Steve Rondinaro

This article was originally published in the September 2008 edition of Drum Corps World (Volume 37, Number 6).

A fish out of water? Pretty much. The “pond” was plenty familiar, but that was it.

Our live, five-hour Thursday night cinecast of the quarterfinals went very well, even though we did it with a smaller crew due to budget cuts. I had a great time doing “combo duty” as host and roving sideline reporter. It was extra challenging, but it gave me a chance to interact with corps members, managers, staff . . . and to share that on-field energy and emotion.

I also had fun on the air . . . donning boxing gloves after the Bluecoats, sharing a cigar with Cavalier founder Don Warren and using the Carolina Crown color guard as a means of making fun of Dennis DeLucia’s hair.   The corps were magnificent. The crowd was into it.
And then it was over.

For the first time in 30 years, I would be watching the semis and finals as a spectator. We had no TV show to do. It was another casualty of tight financial times.

DCI was DOA on ESPN.

No script meetings and run-throughs on Friday. No refining it Saturday morning. No doing it for real Saturday night. No taking notes for the post-production session that would follow in Chicago.

I was hanging out as a fan.

Dennis and I watched Friday night’s semis from the stands. It was quite an experience after all of those years of watching from the press box with headsets on and off. Instead of watching with the required professional detachment and distraction, I got the crowd’s-eye view . . . and it was good. Very good!

I was free to be entertained. And for the most part, I was very entertained. I shared the crowds’ vibe instead of being high above it or on the track in front of it. I appreciated anew from a fan’s perspective just how amazing our drum corps are.

I sat there and soaked up the Cavaliers Alumni corps. I bumped into a bunch of my former Florida Wave “kids”. It was great seeing them and catching up. I also had a chance to talk with fans who’d watched the telecast over the years. Nice people who remembered the days with Maynard, Rita, Chuck, Curt . . .

I also had a chance to learn more about the “corps stories”. An update on the Blue Devils’ bari player who was making a near-miraculous recovery from a mid-season brain aneurism. The Colts’ drum major who same down with mono and the injured horn player who came back to do the backside conducting when the #2 major moved to the podium.

And the Crown member whose mother died in a traffic accident just after Allentown. He actually asked his fellow section members if it was OK if he went home. Once the funeral was over, his dad gave him a plane ticket and said, “Get back there for finals”. And he did.

On Saturday, instead of a morning production meeting, tweaking scripts and making an early crew call at the stadium, I had a leisurely lunch with my lifelong Squires buddy Jud Spena and his family. Isn’t that part of what DCI Championship week is all about? We see each other once a year, but this time we actually had a chance to really chat and catch up and revert to our goofy humor of decades ago.

I went from lunch to Carolina Crown rehearsal. This is my adopted home state corps, after all. I’ve been the volunteer stadium announcer for their home show in Charlotte for 10 years now and was asked to speak to the volunteer group this spring. I also had a chance to talk to the corps back then.

I told them how their “Triple Crown” show affected me personally in 2007 and what I thought it meant to the drum corps movement as a whole. I challenged them to build on that in 2008.

So as I walked into that finals day run-through, I had some unfinished business with those members.

Kevin Smith was kind enough to give me a chance to stand in the middle of the circle to speak to that remarkable group of young people as they were about to put an exclamation point on a tremendous season. I simply thanked them for meeting the challenge, bringing it to another level and helping to make the entire drum corps activity more entertaining, fan friendly and better in the process.

I hadn’t been that close to a drum corps on that “last day” in many years. It was the last time that group would do everything together — ever. This was it. The emotion had me tearing up and I was just a very tiny peripheral part of it all. I feel honored to have been allowed to share in it. I took some pictures with some of the kids, wished them well and headed for the stadium.

I stopped by the TV trucks out of habit and to see if there was anything I could do to help in any way as they shot the finals DVD’s. There wasn’t.

So I walked around the DCI Marketplace, getting more of that fan’s-eye view. The line at the Phantom souvie booth was the longest.

“If they perform it tonight, this place will erupt,” I thought to myself. I had a chance to talk to more fans who were curious why I wasn’t getting ready for the broadcast. I felt bad explaining the cold, hard economic facts, but to a person they were optimistic about next year.

On the upside, two different families told me they had watched the Thursday night cinecast and they just had to get in their cars, drive several hours and watch the finals live.

Back to the stands and on with the show. Overall performances seemed just a little stronger than Friday. The excitement built as the night went on. “Glad I’m not one of those folks in the green shirts,” I said to an adjacent fan. The corps went from excellent to varying degrees of great. Then came the much anticipated throw down at the top.

When Phantom Regiment hit the field, everything racheted up a notch. I was already a bit hoarse from cheering on the other corps. By the time Drum Major Will Pitts got speared, I was standing on my seat yelling and applauding. Unacceptable conduct in the broadcast booth to be sure!

The Blue Devils came out and performed magnificently, like they usually do on Saturday night. They played and marched that show incredibly well. I thought it would be very, very close. I had no idea how close.

Tabulator Tom Kosin later told us as the Blue Devils’ score sheets were coming in, he was told to get out the tiebreaker rules. Tom ran the caption scores for those top two corps forward, backward, sideways and they kept coming out the same. No tiebreaker needed. He sent the final numbers down to field announcer Brandt Crocker.

Brandt announced the second place score and had barely formed the consonant “B” and the stands absolutely cut loose. Strangers were hugging strangers. Everyone was claiming to be Spartacus. It wasn’t that anyone was anti-Blue Devils, they were just pro-Phantom.

That show connected in a very special “Phantom theatre” kind of way. And heaven knows if any drum corps was deserving of its very own, unshared DCI World Championship, it was Phantom Regiment. By a scant 25/1000th’s of a point, Phantom’s time had finally come . . . and who could argue with that.

The stands remained packed for the encore, followed by Elsa’s Procession played from the arc . . . one of my all-time Phantom favorites. People were still buzzing as they left the stadium. And they were still lined up at Phantom’s souvie booth as the parking lot cleared out.

It was an incredible night. I gained valuable new insight into this activity we love, but I was somewhat isolated by virtue of what I have done these last 30 years in the broadcast booth. I was delighted to share it all as a fan, but . . . I’m very sad that we won’t be able to share it with a million or so people on national television in September.

These corps are exceptional. Their work deserves to be shown and their stories told on national television.

Maybe next year?