Phantom Regiment speared the World Class competition with “Spartacus” while the Blue Devils were “Constantly Risking Absurdity” as the defending champions. The Santa Clara Vanguard Cadets won gold in the newly formed Open Class after trailing Blue Devils B all season long. How did the battle in Bloomington play out? Let’s review this year’s top drum corps, award winners and special appearances.
Photo by Jolesch Photography
The competition for the Drum Corps International (DCI) World Championship was the closest ever in its 36 years of history with 1st and 2nd place separated by only 0.025 points. The Blue Devils dominated the season with an impressive 24 first-place finishes with The Cavaliers right behind them. But when the season peaked in Bloomington, Ind., on August 9, Phantom Regiment from Rockford, Ill., stood alone as the World Champion after an amazing upward battle.
Other drum corps made history as well. Carolina Crown had its best year, placing higher than The Cadets in DCI finals for the first time ever. The Blue Stars and Madison Scouts returned to DCI finals after a hiatus from the Top 12. For some, the 2008 season was one of the most enjoyable of the last three decades of drum corps. “Even though placement for some corps might have been disappointing, no corps member should walk away feeling disappointed in the product they put on the field,” says Terri Everett, a former member of the Troopers. “It was a spectacular year to remember.”
Phantom Regiment Declares, “I Am Spartacus!”
On Saturday, Aug. 9, 2008, Phantom Regiment stood alone at the top of the Drum Corps International Top 12 as the World Class Champion.
Phantom Regiment started the competition in 4th place, fought its way to 3rd place in quarterfinals to 2nd place in semifinals and then finally to 1st place in finals.
It was the corps’ second title overall. Previously, Phantom Regiment had tied for the DCI title in 1996 with this year’s 2nd place finisher, The Blue Devils from Concord, Calif.
Phantom Regiment also captured the Percussion Performance, General Effect Music and Music Ensemble awards as well as the Spirit of Disney award.
This season marked Phantom Regiment’s first individual Championship win, as well as a capstone achievement to its previous performances of “Spartacus” in 1981 and 1982.
According to Rick Valenzuela, executive director of Phantom Regiment, “Spartacus” was a show that was going to bomb or be an absolute hit.
“The design team put much thought into making sure this version of ‘Spartacus’ was so fresh and new that people would stop talking about the previous versions,” Valenzuela says. “The audience was invited into the performance, and they all came along for the ride. I told the corps after finals that they are a part of something so special that no one would ever be able to take that away from them.”
There was no doubt that the crowd was behind Phantom’s show. On finals night, its performance was augmented with calls of “I am Spartacus” coming from the stands and again during the awards ceremony later that evening.
“I think the season was a huge success, and not only because we were crowned DCI World Champions,” Valenzuela says. “The journey this group of young people took from day one to the final day was life changing for many, myself included. I saw this group mature as people and as performers in front of my very eyes. Once we all decided to get on the same page, there was no stopping them.”
But it wasn’t all fun and games. Valenzuela reflects on Phantom Regiment’s financial difficulties in recent years that had become an obstacle to contend with. “This year started out with us getting out from behind a huge debt that went back almost 10 years,” he says. “Putting that behind us and moving forward with the help of so many people makes this win all that more special. This season wasn’t only made up of performers but the staff and volunteers, too. We really learned what it meant to act as a family.”
Katie Allison, a 2006 color guard member, was proud to watch her corps pull off the win. “The performance was breathtaking by how they took in the show and told an amazing story,” she says. “The color guard did a fantastic job with their performance. It seemed as if they really believed in the Spartacus story. I was so proud to see them win the DCI World Championship.”
The Blue Devils Are “Constantly Risking Absurdity”
The defending DCI World Champions were the corps to beat in 2008. The winningest drum and bugle corps of all time with 12 DCI World Championships made it a fight to the finish. Although The Blue Devils led the pack going into finals, Phantom Regiment edged it out by the narrowest margin in DCI finals history (0.025 points).
“This year’s show far exceeded our expectations,” says David Gibbs, executive director of The Blue Devils. “It was fun to design, and everything came together well for us.”
The Blue Devils’ 2008 production, “Constantly Risking Absurdity,” owes its inspiration to poetry about the treachery of navigating an artistic high wire.
“I’m continuously impressed with the members and the staff,” Gibbs says. “Every year, they find a way to maintain a high level of excellence in the drum corps activity, and this year’s show pushed that level even higher.”
The Blue Devils dominated the 2008 drum corps season with an impressive 24 first-place finishes. The corps had lost only one other time at the Eastern Classic in Allentown, Pa., to The Cavaliers by 0.25 points.
“I feel the key to The Blue Devils’ success over the past three decades can be contributed to the staff and administration,” says Phil Rodell, who marched with The Blue Devils in 1994 on baritone and was a member of the Tony Award winning cast of BLAST! starting in the original London cast. “There are still the same instructors that I had when I marched nearly 14 years ago. A consistent well-run organization breeds excellence.”
The Blue Devils took top honors with Brass Performance, Color Guard Performance, General Effect Visual and Visual Ensemble categories.
The Cavaliers, who placed 3rd overall, took the Visual Performance category. Phantom Regiment captured the Percussion Performance, General Effect Music and Music Ensemble categories. “Although The Blue Devils show was phenomenal, Phantom Regiment’s theme was very tangible to the audience,” Rodell says. “I was really appreciative of the theatrics; the battery and percussion were just incredible.”
Gibbs expresses pride in his corps’ achievement this year: “This year’s top six drum corps were amazing this season,” Gibbs says. “We were thrilled with the way the members performed on finals night. They could not have performed at a higher level than what they did.”
Vanguard Cadets Put Gold In Persepective
The Santa Clara Vanguard Cadets from Santa Clara, Calif., captured the first ever DCI Open Class Championship at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, Ind., on August 9. It was the corps’ second drum corps championship overall. The Vanguard Cadets won the DCI Division II World Championship title in 2000 with its show, “Journey from the Darkness.”
This year’s program entitled “Perspectives” narrowly beat the Blue Devils B program of “Flight” by just 0.05. That’s an extremely close margin in an activity typically determined by tenths of a point.
“The [Open Class] finals performance for the Vanguard Cadets was the best of the season,” says corps director Robert Ripley in an interview with DCI.org. “It’s been a lot of fun playing cat and mouse with all the other corps, and it’s been a great season for Open Class drum corps. I think the better everybody is, the more exciting it is for the fans.”
Brandon Beck, a drum major for the Vanguard Cadets, talks about his experience: “This season for me was the best summer of my life,” he says. “Not because we won the Open Class title, but because the drum corps truly became a family. We believed in our show and everything that it meant to us. We cared far more about having the best show that we possibly could and walking off of the field saying to ourselves, ‘That was my best show of the season.’ We left it all out there on the field and just gave it everything we had. It was never about winning for us. We just wanted to have a great show every time.”
Jeremy “Spike” Van Wert, a former Santa Clara Vanguard tenor drum player and former percussion instructor for the Vanguard Cadets, shares his thoughts on this year’s battle for the Open Class championship.
“The win is a great source of pride to the entire organization,” Van Wert says. “I remember when I was instructing the drum line when they won their first title in 2000.”
The Vanguard Cadets also took top honors in Brass Performance, Visual Performance and Percussion Performance.
Overall, it won the Music Caption, earned second in the General Effect Caption and fourth in the Visual Caption.
“The members of the Vanguard Cadets will cherish this memory whether they move on to the Santa Clara Vanguard A Corps or not,” says Van Wert, who authored a book entitled “Not for the Faint of Heart” about his experience marching with the Santa Clara Vanguard.“All those well-trained Vanguard Cadets members will be filing into the A Corps very soon. I can’t wait to see what happens next year.”
Blue Devils B Take “Flight”
The Blue Devils B from Concord, Calif., had led the Open Class competition all summer long. When the DCI World Championships rolled around, it would come down to Blue Devils B and its “cross-town rival,” the Vanguard Cadets from Santa Clara, Calif., for the Open Class title.
Leading after Open Class semifinals by a quarter of a point, Blue Devils B did its best to hold on to the lead. Its program, entitled “Flight” featuring original compositions by John Meehan and John Mackey, embodied the concept of leading from the front.
However, it was the Vanguard Cadets’ program entitled “Perspectives” that narrowly slid past Blue Devils B by just five hundredths of a point. The Vanguard Cadets finished with a final score of 96.825 as Blue Devils B took the silver medal with 96.775. Jersey Surf finished in third with 96.050.
“It’s been a great season,” says Rick Odello, corps director for Blue Devils B. “This was our highest placement ever for our drum corps. Our goal this season was to be in the top three, and we accomplished that with the silver medal.”
In the past, Blue Devils B had only traveled to DCI World Championships once every few years. Since taking on the corps director position in 2004, Odello has worked to add resources and improve the overall touring experience. Blue Devils B has been to DCI World Championships four out of the past five seasons.
“The program has really come along,” Odello says. “To be successful, you have to be responsible with your finances and operate within your means. It is critical to be surrounded by good people.”
Blue Devils B took top honors in the General Effect Music, Music Ensemble and Visual Ensemble categories. Jersey Surf won General Effect Visual. The upand- coming Citations, which placed 6th overall, captured the Color Guard Performance recognition.
The Blue Devils B creative program was also recognized when it received the Spirit of Disney Award for Open Class.
“We created a theme through narration and from an overall program standpoint that was engaging to the audience,” says Odello who was recognized as the Open Class Director of the Year.
“A lot of the credit for our success goes to our volunteers, support staff, instructors and members for a great year for the Blue Devils B organization.”
Accolades and Recognition
Mark Chambers, director of the Crossmen from San Antonio, was selected by his peers as the World Class Director of the Year for 2008.
Chambers, who is in his second year as director of the Crossmen, shared his thoughts on what it takes to run a quality drum corps. “One key element I have found is balance,” he says. “The director has to have the ability to filter all of the input that comes from many sources and then take that input and give the corps the proper direction.”
In Open Class, Rick Odello, director of Blue Devils B, was voted as the 2008 Open Class Director of the Year. Odello, who has been director for Blue Devils B since 2004, shares some advice for drum corps survival in today’s economy. “You have to be very responsible with budgeting and finances,” Odello says. “You must stay within your means, and it is critical to be surrounded by good people who you trust to delegate responsibilities to. One person cannot do it all.”
Top Drum Majors
The Jim Jones Leadership Award is an annual award given to outstanding drum majors nominated by their directors and selected by DCI Hall of Fame members.
The award recognizes excellence in corps leadership and conducting skills and includes a monetary scholarship for first, second and third place.
This year’s top drum majors are Meghan Huber from the Crossmen and Blair Lezcano from the Velvet Knights.
The Cavaliers Anniversary Corps
The Cavaliers Anniversary Corps, with 170 members, made a special appearance at the DCI World Championships semifinals to commemorate 60 years of history. “We decided to present glimpses, moments, rather than a truly authentic representation of each era, and the blend of old and new proved to be fun for both the audience and for us to perform,” says Chris Hartowicz, the anniversary corps director.
Bringing the alumni together also provided an opportunity to create an endowment fund to ensure the longterm stability of the corps. At the 60th Anniversary celebration, The Cavaliers received pledges for $567,000 over the next five years.
For a longer article about The Cavaliers Anniversary Corps, visit our“Web Exclusives, Magazine Extras” section.
About the Author
Gregory M. Kuzma, who simply goes by “GM,” is a freelance writer and the author of the book “On the Field From Denver, Colorado … The Blue Knights!” (www.gregorymkuzma.com), which highlights his 1994 summer tour adventures as a drum corps member.