Casper Troopers ready to make return to DCI competition

by Mike Ferlazzo, DCW staff

This article originally appeared in the June 1, 2007 issue of Drum Corps World (Volume 36, Number 3), mailed to subscribers on May 24, 2007.

June 3, 2007 — Cheyenne, WY . . . This year’s rebirth of the Casper Troopers is a classic tale of good coming from bad. You can almost hear the corps’ trademark Battle Hymn Chorale — which will be its field warm-up this year — accompanying this feel-good story.

All the Troopers’ leadership and boosters polled at its pre-season camp in Cheyenne seemed to agree that Drum Corps International’s decision to shut down the corps following the 2005 season due to delinquent Internal Revenue Service reporting and mounting debt may have been the best thing that happened to the organization. While the imposed season off seemed like a devastating blow to “America’s Corps” at the time, it ultimately acted like an extended retooling retreat for its new management team, which now has the corps poised to be bigger and better for its competitive return this summer.

“Yeah absolutely, I think it was in the best interest of everyone,” said Corps Director Fred Morris. “I think it’s a great model from which to rebuild such organizations that have to do that. We had a breath of fresh air if you will. It gave us a chance to realign ourselves from the management and financial standpoints and really sit down and see where we wanted to take this organization — for not just one year. We’ve got a long-year battle plan.”

“I think that as difficult a decision as it was to take ’06 off, it kind of broke a cycle for us and enabled us to really step back and regroup and get our feet under us and be able to do the things we’re able to do now,” said Executive Director Mike Ottoes, a Trooper alumnus and Cheyenne businessman. “We had a pretty good business in place to support us in terms of the bingo hall and it’s doing really, really well this year. It’s in a beautiful new building (opened in February 2006), which is helping us a lot with the customers. It’s a great place to go play bingo. And Casper’s economy is doing really well. All of Wyoming’s economy is doing well which, of course, helps us. The bingo hall has been the main reason we’ve been able to deal with the debt and do the things that we’re doing right now.”

While the corps’ bingo operation has paid the biggest dividends, it also got a big financial boost from “A Night with the Stars” on June 9 — a fund-raising program hosted by retired U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson and Dr. Pete Simpson and featuring well-known regional bands, live and silent auctions, and celebrity bingo. The organization has also launched its Honorary Troopers booster program and a $30,000 new uniform drive.

The end result — Ottoes reports that the corps retired its “sizable” debt in May, a month in front of the target date.

The Troop is as big
as it’s been in 20 years

As for the corps, the Troopers aren’t just planning to return at the same size and strength as they left. In fact, the 64 brass (including 12 tubas), 27 percussion (8S-4T-5B-10PP), 24 color guard and two drum majors for a total of 117 members is believed to be the largest Troop they’ve fielded since last making DCI Finals back in 1986.

They’ll be using brand-new equipment too — the brass on new B-flat Yamaha horns and the percussion on new Pearl drums and Adams pit equipment — and performing in new Stanbury uniforms, a contemporary upgrade of the corps’ classic U.S. Calvary classics.

The all-Navy blue “commander” look will literally contain pieces of the corps’ original 1957 uniform, with the black gauntlets trimmed in gold sporting three buttons that were taken from those uniforms. The new look will also be topped with an original Trooper standard as the corps will be going back to the black felt cowboy hats made by the Rockmount Hat Co. in Denver. The hats were obtained by Trooper booster Lou Taubert, who previously worked for Rockmount and now owns his own western store in Casper.

Like the uniform, the 2007 program, “Awakening: Rebirth of a Legend,” will have a more contemporary feel and look — from the more interpretive and modern movements and equipment use in the color guard, to the tilted snare drums and more relaxed and sensitive playing style in the battery, to the more blended and balanced B-flat brass sound. The Western-themed contemporary book features music of composers Joseph Curiale, Dave Brubeck and Gordon Goodwin.

But Troopers alumni and fans will also recognize plenty of trademark references to the corps’ famed heritage during a program that, in effect, transitions from its proud past into a more modern future. Fans should watch for some original military equipment work in the guard, a “Troop” shout at the end of the opener while the battery does its crossed saber stick visual, a color presentation at the end of the ballad, several tags from Casper’s most classic music and, naturally, the “sunburst.”

Make no mistake, these are new Troopers — 75 percent are drum corps rookies, according to Morris, but they’ll be presenting a show that should appeal to young and old alike. And that has the members excited.

“With the whole new corps uniform and guard uniform and a whole new look, I think people are going to say ‘Holy cow, where did these people come from?,’ ” said Victoria Romero, the age-out guard captain from Albuquerque, NM, one of just three Trooper veterans in this year’s guard.

“Everything is so brand-new and the show is so different,” she said. “It’s not old-style Troopers. I think people are going to be wowed and amazed, but yet they’re still going to see that we try to keep the past and are not just trying to change the Troopers. We’re trying to mold it into something that can be great and I think the crowd and the judges — and even the people inside the corps — are going to love every second of it.”
The color guard goes Code Black

Romero has loved the more modern jazz interpretive style being choreographed by new color guard caption head Charles Williams. While this is Williams’ first drum corps staff position, but the former Bluecoats member directs perennial Winter Guard International medalist Code Black from the Houston, TX, area and he’s brought some of that Texas flavor to the Troopers with many of the new members coming from his winter guard.

That has made an immediate impact on Casper’s guard, which has struggled in the past due to inexperience and constant staff turnover.

“I’ve noticed that the past few years before this one, we had a bunch of new people coming in and a bunch of people who didn’t know how to spin. So we really had to start from the beginning and went through a lot of different staff both years,” said Romero. “So it was hard to get a base and grow from it because we were always changing.

“And now this year, most of these girls are from Code Black color guard,” she said. “The staff and these girls won a gold medal [at WGI], so they all can spin, so we never had to start from the beginning, except for a few. I can see so much potential. Starting now is where we ended in 2004 and 2005.”

That was the plan according to Morris, who revels in the corps’ history, but has assembled a creative team that will lead it into the world of modern drum corps.

“We got them [the Troopers] into the current century I guess,” said Morris. “As you watch the activity, you see where it’s going. To remain   competitive, you’ve got to run with the dogs or stay on the porch. So we decided to do that and I assembled a team with a very creative, modernistic approach to the activity — musically and design-wise. We wanted to put a fresh face on the thing, but still keep our foot on the bag, so to speak.”

“We planned and we prepared and you always just plan your work and work your plan. We’ve managed to do that pretty successfully,” he said.

DCI’s 2007
Cinderella story?

The Trooper’s comeback this summer has a feel like the Blue Stars’ return to division I for the first time in 24 years last season. That Cinderella story propelled the Blue Stars all the way into semifinals in 2006, finishing 14th.

Troopers’ brass sergeant, Kyle Trader of Longmont, CO, marched with the Blue Stars last year after spending the previous two with the Troopers. He has experienced a similar energy in Casper’s camp this season as it, too, gets ready for a triumphant return.

“I was actually talking to Dieter Wise recently — he’s the baritone section leader and the guy who actually got me into the activity — and I said, ‘Man, some of these things I’m feeling right now I felt at Blue Stars when I was there last year,’ ” said Trader, a trumpet player who was chosen to debut the corps’ new uniform to the other members. “I just feel that energy from being something unique in that year that nobody else can top. On top of that, we’re the Troopers, so who can top that uniqueness? Nobody can.

“So the vibe around here, even though the weather’s been kind of bad for us the last couple of days, is that everybody’s been keeping their smiles on for some of the day. They’re just pushing through it and they can just see the finished product.”

In the case of Troopers, that may be a case of youthful exuberance with so many drum corps rookies in a corps that has an average age of just over 18. That’s why it’s up to people like Wise and age-out Drum Major Mark Crimm of Casper to not only provide them experienced leadership, but also a sense of where this legendary corps has been and where it’s going.

“Seeing so many new people has been quite a bit of a challenge. Trying to get them to really buy into who the Troopers are and to try and teach them the history has been kind of exciting, to be honest,” said Crimm, who led the new Troopers through the corps song with interlocking crossed arms on this night.

“You just witnessed us singing the corps song and I think that’s the third night that we’ve sung it since all-days have started. We’re going to be singing it every night and before shows. I was a little bit worried because sometimes people don’t go for programs like that, but the first night we sang it, I actually walked into a battery rehearsal, and they stopped rehearsing to memorize the corps song.

“So, it’s been fun to see people who have no idea of what this corps is,” he continued. “People have no idea of really what drum corps is coming into this activity, coming into this program, and they’re the ones who are making it what it is. They’re the ones who are going to make it the future Troopers. It’s been really exciting to be able to mentor and talk to some of these people and teach them who we are.”

He’s not the only one who’s having fun.

Morris said that he has to pinch himself every day because things are going so well with a corps that is both exciting and new. He reports that the high percentage of new members was actually part of the recruiting plan. They hope to give those rookies a good experience and entice them back as veterans as they plan to return the corps to its previous competitive heights.

“I want to get it back to national prominence, like they once were,” Morris said. “The kids deserve it. We’re working as hard as everyone else and, hopefully, we’re laying the foundation for that.

“I think we really are.”