Part 2: On the road to Philly in 1926 with the Racine, WI, Boys of 76

From the collection of George Fennell

by George Fennell

The 1926 National American Legion Convention was held in Philadelphia, PA, from October 11-15.

This national championship was probably best remembered for its poor judging and as the catalyst for uniform judging standards and qualified, trained judges.

This article will chronicle the journeys of the three national championship-contending drum and bugle corps from Wisconsin — Beloit, Fond du Lac and Racine — to this national convention.

Determined to win first place at a national American Legion convention for the fifth consecutive time, the Racine Boys of 76 and other local Legionnaires, about 125 total, left the St. Paul Railroad’s train station in Racine for Philadelphia at 8:00 PM on Saturday, October 9. Their special train consisted of two baggage cars, four Pullmans and a diner car.

Prior to leaving, however, the members of the drum and bugle corps met at Memorial Hall in downtown Racine at 7:00 PM and, in olive drab uniforms, the drum corps paraded to the train station.

The Racine Legionnaires’ special train arrived in Philadelphia on Sunday night where they stayed at the Elks Club.

Special trains carrying Legionnaires and auxiliary women from all parts of the country were arriving in Philadelphia so close to each other — many times only 10 minutes apart — that it was like a great caravan of train cars crowded with Veterans on their way to the greatest American Legion national convention in the organization’s short history.
Monday, October 11, was the busiest day the Racine drum corps ever had at a national American Legion convention.

At 8:00 AM, the Boys of 76 marched from the Elks Club to the convention hall at the Sesquicentennial Exposition, 3 1/2 miles, where they played at the opening session as defending champions of the drum and bugle corps show. A drill practice was then held in the stadium where the competition was to be held.

After their day’s work, the Racine corps members went sightseeing, followed by a concert from 10:30 to 11:30 PM at the Wanamaker broadcasting studio.

The American Legion’s big national convention parade was staged on Tuesday, October 12. From this parade, the 15 best drum corps were selected by judges to appear in a second elimination, or semi-finals, competition at 11:00 AM on Wednesday morning, October 13.

The 15 that were selected were: Racine, WI; Shelby, OH; Fort Dodge, IA; Redoak, IA; Rockford, IL; Spartanburg, SC; Oneida, NY; Washington, DC; Fond du Lac, WI; Easton, PA; Tulsa, OK; Miami, FL; St. Paul, MN; Philadelphia, PA; and Frankfort, PA.
Five drum corps were then selected from the 15 semi-finalists to compete for the American Legion national championship at 7:30 PM on Wednesday night, October 13. The competition was held in the gigantic stadium erected for the Sesquicentennial Exposition in Philadelphia.

The announcer said before giving the results of the finals, “Prepare yourselves for a surprise” and many spectators, in addition to the members of the Boys of 76, were indeed surprised.

The results of this competition were announced as follows: Fort Dodge, IA, Post 130, first; Kankakee, IL, Post 85, second; Racine, WI, Post 76, third; St. Paul, MN, Post 80, fourth; and Shelby, OH, Post 326, fifth.

Thus ended the Racine Boys of 76’s four-year reign as the American Legion national champions. Although the members and many in the audience felt that Racine was the best of the five finalists, the corps members reportedly took the defeat like good sports and said they would stick together and try again.

The Boys of 76’s bugle quartet, composed of Al Slater, George Rybacek, Ed Hahn and Wally Draeger, received second prize. One of the corps’ snare drummers, Norbert Zinnen, placed fourth in that competition.

Criticism of the judging by the members of the various competing corps began immediately after the announcement of the 15 semi-finalists. Judges reviewed the drum corps in the big American Legion national convention parade from when it started at 1:30 PM in the afternoon until the parade ended at nearly 8:00 PM that night and there was no judging system used to select the 15 semi-finalists.

It was reported by the Beloit Daily News that the judges marked every drum corps in the parade either “good” or “very good.” It was said that only three drum corps were rated as “very good” and all the rest as “good.”

When the great parade was finished, the judges very naturally found it impossible to come up with the 15 best to compete in the semi-finals. So, admittedly, among the 15 drum corps chosen were several that were vastly inferior to drum corps that were not chosen.

The chairman of the committee which named the judges said that the judges had admitted there were some “terrible mistakes” in the selections that were made.

Charles Tiede, a member of Racine’s Boys of 76 and in charge of publicity for the corps, telegraphed the Racine Times-Call newspaper after the contest stating that “the judging of the whole contest was so incompetent that the wonderful drum corps from Omaha, NE, and Beloit, WI, were not selected for the semi-finals” and both of these corps, in addition to the Rockford, IL, drum corps, should have been included in the top five to compete in finals.

Tiede also stated in this telegram that “at every other competition the judges gave a detailed report immediately after the contest on these points: uniform, marching appearance, rhythm, cadence and maneuvers. Two days after the contest and we have not been able to get a report or even learn the names of the judges.”

It was later learned that two judges were sailors and another a sergeant in the Marines.
Five of the drum corps selected among the 15 did not compete in the semi-finals at all according to the Beloit Daily News. One of these actually asked the Beloit, WI, drum corps to don its uniforms and compete in its place.

Because of the great dissatisfaction expressed by the drum corps over the manner in which the judging was done this year, the Minnesota delegation introduced on Friday afternoon, October 15, a resolution providing that the leaders of the five highest drum corps this year should make the rules for judging at future contests and it was passed.

It was hoped that in the future there would be military judges for drill, recognized musicians as judges of playing and that there would be a definite point system in which each drum corps would be judged on the same basis.

Both the Racine and the Beloit drum corps left Philadelphia early Saturday morning, October 16, via separate trains and stopped that morning in Washington, DC. The Racine, Beloit and St. Paul drum corps paraded before President Coolidge and other federal officials later that morning.

Then in the afternoon, the Beloit drum corps went to Arlington National Cemetery where in a fine and impressive ceremony, Bob Moses, acting for the corps, placed a wreath on the grave of the unknown soldier while the military guard at the grave stood at parade rest.

Disappointed, but not despondent, Beloit’s drum corps arrived home Sunday night, October 17, where they were greeted by a great crowd at the Chicago and Northwestern train station.

The Racine drum corps arrived at 5:00 PM Sunday night at the Junction Station in Racine. The corps then detrained and marched down Washington Avenue to Memorial Hall in downtown Racine where they were greeted by the mayor, civic leaders, family and friends.

G. V. Cannon, captain of the St. Paul drum corps, the fifth-place corps at the finals in Philadelphia, expressed his regrets at the outcome of the drum corps contest in the following letter to the Racine Journal-News: “Kindly allow me the privilege of expressing our regrets at the outcome of the drum and bugle corps contest at the Philadelphia national American Legion convention last week. Having been participants of the contest with your organization and knowing the grave injustice brought onto several of our corps, I write this letter that you may know that the professional judges in the contest were, to say the least, dumbfounded that any committee in charge of a contest of such a plan as the one held in Philadelphia, should ever permit a group of judges to be used who were thoroughly unfamiliar with their work and who were the least concerned over the points of judgment of anybody seated in the stadium.

“I have learned since the competition that the corps were judged under an entirely different set of rules than those qualified under and we, of the St. Paul organization, want not only the members of the drum corps of your city, but the citizens of your city, to know that your organization put forth their most earnest efforts and presented a remarkable performance, and while they have been for several years our main opposition in these national contests, we have always received from them clean, good sportsmanship efforts on their behalf.

“There is little doubt in the minds of anybody who witnessed the exhibition as to the honesty of the judgment, and while our organization has not protested, we are taking severe steps along the lines of drawing national competition rules to govern these contests so that the best drum corps at the convention may take the prize home and not the organization with the largest political following within the American Legion.”

Publisher’s note: This article also appeared in the April 2004 issue of Drum Corps World.