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Friday, May 27, 2016

Scouts Honor

blah blah blah... click the picture for tickets!
With any luck, elbow grease, and gumption on my part, I will be bringing Scouts Honor: Inside a Marching Brotherhood to the Triad for its first screening in the Carolinas.

For those unfamiliar, Scouts Honor is a documentary that follows the Madison Scouts through a marching season, focusing on the stories of the of the young men playing in the corps. The film has been on my radar for some time now, and I got to meet Mac, the director, producer, and founder in Indianapolis when I made the trip for DCI championships.

It started with a tweet:

As any effective manager would tell you, to suggest is to volunteer:
And so it began. I exchanged a few DMs with the Scouts Honor folk, and after exploring a few options came to the conclusion: Why not me? I went ahead to Gathr Films and signed up to host a local screening. For those unfamiliar - I know I was - Gathr works like a crowdfunding site: When it hits critical mass the screening becomes a reality; if it doesn't, the screening doesn't happen and no one is charged. I've currently got just shy of seven weeks to beat the streets and get 80 people (a fitting number, as it were) to reserve their tickets for a screening in late July. They date was chosen by design because of its proximity to NightBEAT in Winston-Salem. The theater, located in High Point, is easily accessible from Winston and from my home in Greensboro.

If you're reasonable traveling distance from the Piedmont Triad, I invite you to the screening of Scouts Honor: Inside a Marching Brotherhood, taking place on Wednesday, July 27 at 7:30pm at the Palladium in High Point, NC. To reserve your tickets, click here. Want to tell your college roommate in Kernersville or your sister-in-law in Clemmons? Share that link, this post, or the Facebook event with them. Hope to see you there!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Drumming Up Funds

A couple of college bands are in jeopardy after losing their funding provided by the university.

Halftime Magazine reports that the pep band at Wichita State and the marching and pep bands at West Liberty University in West Virginia have been defunded from Student Government and state funds, respectively. Without the funding, each ensemble's existence for the coming school year is in serious doubt.

Athletic bands exist at the nexus of athletics, music, and student organizations. This format makes for a powerful cocurricular experience, but it also allows any one entity to absolve itself of responsibility for supporting or funding such programs. At Wichita State, the pep band lost the funding earmarked for them by the Student Government Association, which also allocates student fees to student organizations. At West Liberty, state budget cuts which forced the music program to tighten its belt doomed the athletic bands program.

For those who follow major college athletics, the situation at Wichita State may seem particularly egregious. The pep band in question has accompanied perennial mid-major power Shockers men's basketball to the NCAA tournament each of the last five years, including a final four appearance in 2013 and a sweet sixteen trip in 2015. Frankly, it's a bit strange to me that the funding wasn't coming from athletics in the first place. Wichita State's SGA seemed to agree, citing among their reasons for the cut to the pep band funding their ability to be funded by other sources, including the athletic department. Hopefully, athletics will pay the support forward to ensure their games aren't a whole lot quieter in the future.

Meanwhile, in West Virginia, West Liberty's athletic bands were a casualty of the increasing budget cuts to public higher education. Those cuts, which I'm sure put a strain on all academic departments and state-funded areas, may have been exacerbated by the athletic bands' perceived value to the music program. While I can't speak specifically to the climate at West Liberty, the strain between athletic bands and their music departments isn't unprecedented. Lack of musical rigor (real or perceived), their function as student organizations, and their allegiance - some may say subservience - to something as base as college athletics often "other"s them within the department. Indeed, when the cuts came to West Liberty's programs, the interim dean stated,“This decision protects current and future music students because it allows the Music Program to continue to fulfill the established curricular requirements for its degrees”. That statement portrays the athletics band programs as outside of the curricular requirements - a luxury or frivolity, depending on your interpretation.

Here's hoping that both programs find the funding necessary to continue their operations.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

So You're Telling Me There's A Chance

As the Premier League's season pulls into the station, comparatively destitute Leicester City plays the role of the Little Engine that Could. Here in the States, Villanova took home men's college basketball's top prize without the benefit of major conference football money.

Down in East Texas, the Coogs have to be thinking: Why not us?

Among the off-season musings that occupy the time until football returns is the question of whether a team from a non-auto-qualifying conference could ever play for a championship. The field has widened since the Playoff began, and this year's Houston team may have as good a chance as anyone.

Since Boise State last challenged for the spot, it has become apparent that for a team from outside of the power structure to have a shot, it's a multi-year process. Houston will be building upon a strong 2015 outing and a top ten ranking, and a bowl victory over recent champion FSU doesn't hurt either. Several preseason rankings and predictions have Houston in the 7-15 range, and while these don't have any bearing on the selection committee, it gives a snapshot of the Cougars' respect in national media. Houston also hauled in the top recruiting class ever for a group of five team. The roster is, of course, full of Texas Kids™, which I'm sure also provide a perception boost.

Speaking of perception, Houston is also uniquely positioned with a head coach in Herman who many believe could have had any open job in the country this past offseason. He has the clout through his connection to the first playoff national champion in Ohio State; in fact, there was UH gear on the field during the championship celebration, thanks to a smart branding decision from already-hired Herman.

Lastly, while it's tough for a group of five schedule to stand up to power five scrutiny, a group from the American has as good a chance as any. If last year's conference powers hold serve, Houston will face strong squads in Navy, Memphis, and whoever emerges from the East. But perhaps most notably, in addition to an ACC squad in Louisville, their out of conference begins with an opening week "neutral" but in-town tilt with Oklahoma in Houston's NRG Stadium. If the Coogs can knock off the Sooners? Let the buzz begin.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Orange and Green

Mark Richt has lost control of the Sun Life Stadium construction project.

With the Miami Herald reporting that construction on Sun Life Stadium, home to the Miami Dolphins and the Miami Hurricanes, is running a few weeks behind schedule, the Canes may have to consider an alternative location for their home opener. They've considered FIU's Stadium, virtually down the road, but they also reportedly have a "top secret contingency plan".

I hope it's in Tallahassee.

Miami's opponent for the home opener is FAMU. While it's extremely rare for an FCS school to host their FBS - much less Power 5 - opponent,  this could throw a bone in a major way to a smaller program in the state. And while Tallahassee is nearly a 500 mile trek from Miami, it gives the U some tendrils elsewhere in the state - and in FSU's backyard, in a year where the Noles and all other in-state opponents are scheduled to come to Miami's south Florida home. FAMU's stadium actually holds more than FIU's. While it would be a considerable hike for Miami, I don't see home field advantage playing a huge role here. Miami will win the football game just as assuredly as the Marching 100 will win halftime.

Friday, April 22, 2016

On Guard

While no one's asked for it, I feel the need to make a quick clarification for my guard folks. In my recent March/April Staccato, I was dismissive of the weekend following the Final Four, as its highlights are baseball, golf, and WGI. I've gone on record as not being particularly fond of baseball (though opening week holds a special magic) and I care so little about golf that I'm not sure I've so much as mentioned it. But my feelings about WGI are a bit different. Both my marching band and dance roots give me an appreciation of guard, but as a standalone activity, I don't follow. So while I can appreciate individual shows and have a great time at an event, I'm not attuned to the bigger picture.

Put another way: for me, it's all about context.

I can enjoy a Carolina Crown on its own merit, certainly, but how are they doing relative to the Blue Devils? Sure the Eagles got that win, but they're still not going to make the playoffs. I tend to enjoy the sports/activities that I do in the micro and the macro. With guard - and it should be noted, I feel the same about WGI Percussion, and [no data available] for WGI Winds - championship weekend doesn't mean as much since I don't have a dog in the fight and I'm not there. Still though, I'm excited that a sizable swath of marching arts fans descend upon Dayton to enjoy what they love!

Monday, April 18, 2016

March/April Staccato Notes

Well well, I haven't had much to say over here since the round of 64 in the NCAA men's hoops tournament, and now we're in a whole new hosts of sports. I've had enough topics of interest to at least give a series of short notes.

-After an epic finale - and a strong tournament overall - the Villanova Wildcats are your 2016 Division I men's basketball champions. The Philly sports fan in me is thrilled, naturally. So is Roxanne Chalifoux, AKA last year's Crying Piccolo Girl from Villanova.
-The week/end that followed the Final Four should have been of great interest to someone with my broad interest - sports and the marching arts - but of reasonably little consequence in the specific. Sorry Masters, MLB, and WGI. My wife however, is back in her element, watching O's updates on her phone.
-I had occasion to visit the College Football Hall of Fame during a work trip to Atlanta. I caught it before the move as well, back in South Bend. While the whole Hall is great, I will admit to being the guy taking the pictures of the band stuff.
-LSU - you know, the same school that played fast and loose with Les Miles' livelihood this past football season - has placed band director Roy King on administrative leave.
-Satellite camps have been banned by the NCAA, effective immediately. It's been noted by many that for them to have been defeated, some had to vote against their own self interest.
-In other NCAA football news, there's a moratorium on new bowls for the next three seasons. Good, say I - there are too many already.
-The NBA will start including ads on jerseys in the 2017 season. From my admittedly limited scope, I don't see the cause. The sports one associates most closely with advertising - soccer and NASCAR - also have limited breaks in the action for actual commercials. the NBA doesn't have this problem.
-Last but far from least, the 500 pound gorilla in my North Carolina World: HB2, a shameful piece of legislation that garners most of its press from its implications on bathroom use for transgender folks, but goes much further to restrict the rights of North Carolinians and the state's municipalities. First, to draw a sports analogy: The bill itself was rushed through a special session as opposed to being given due consideration by the legislative body. While I thought for a moment our governor may consider a veto on grounds of its overreach, its haste, or its business implications (which I'll get to in a second), it turn out he was waiting at the Hoosier Dome for the Mayflowers to pull up.

In a sports context, both the NBA and NCAA have issued statements admonishing the bill, and each has some pretty major skin in the game. The NBA is slated to host its All-Star game in Charlotte in 2017. It looks like it's going to stay, despite Atlanta's public dirty-macking on the event. The NCAA will host first and second round men's basketball tournament action here in Greensboro in 2017, though them making a political statement wouldn't be unprecedented; South Carolina just got its postseason rights back after removing the confederate battle flag from the state house grounds.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Bracketed In

Whether attending games live or longing for the fleeting glimpses of pep bands while watching the NCAA basketball tournament, you may have noticed a certain uniformity in the bands. While every band has their own look, style, and swag, they've all got one thing in common: No more than 29 members. Tournament rules cap the number of band members that can attend, which presents a challenge for larger bands, especially those that hail from schools where basketball, not football, is the banner sport. The NCAA also forbids electronic instruments, meaning that bands who may feature electric guitars, basses, and keyboards in their own arena have to leave those instruments - and often those players - home.

The folks over at College Marching have begun a petition to change this, increasing the number of players from 29 to 40, and including electronics. I could honestly go 50, but regardless, I'm 100% behind the proposal. Why cap it at all? I see two key reasons: The first is sheer arena logistics. As important as the bands are, their interests need to be balanced with paid butts in seats. The other is that a standardized number prevents a David vs. Goliath in the stands between the two bands sitting 94 feet apart. Some bands have more resources - a marching band, a large student body - that allow them to put dozens if not hundreds of students into the stands. Limits ensure the band under the other basket can stack up. That said, much in the manner I believe any athletic director should plan to send the marching band to any postseason football, they should also plan to send the pep band - whatever iteration of it plays in your home arena - to the conference and NCAA tournaments. If that number exceeds the cap, the additional players can add to your student cheering section, and hopefully get the chance to play behind the starters if the team advances.

My stance on electronics may surprise some who know I'm pro-acoustic instrumentation, but marching band and pep band, while related, are different worlds. A pep band's form and instrumentation may be that of a marching band, a jazz combo, or anywhere in between, so a rhythm section featuring keys, bass and guitar is entirely within bounds. I even love to see some of the more unorthodox instruments like electrics strings. In college, I remember going to the NEC tournament in the year that our pep band added an electric bass player. She had been a hit at home, but we learned only after we got to the tourney site that her amp wasn't welcome as part of our ensemble. Imagine playing in support of your team all season long only to learn that on the biggest stage, you've been sidelined. Pep bands are already miked in the tournament; including electronic instruments won't change the profile in that regard.

Few would argue that the men's basketball tournament is the highest profile event the NCAA does from year to year. It's time to get more their "one shining moment." If you agree, join me in signing the petition to #ExpandTheBand.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Tournament Town 2016

A video posted by 80 Minutes of Regulation (@eightyminutes) on

First, as a matter of housekeeping: You can now follow on Instagram @eightyminutes. This'll be all 80 Minutes of Regulation, all the time, so on the off-chance that you've followed @80mins, you can still see my adorable kids, but it's not your best place for marching/athletic music and sports.
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This week, the ACC Men's Basketball tournament is in Washington DC, thumbing its nose at College Park, but last week, the women's tournament was at home here in Greensboro. I made it out to most of Friday's action, including some mascot night festivities with my daughter, and I caught three games, six teams, and, of course, six pep bands. Oh, you forgot why I was there?

Having not yet been to a women's hoops game this season, there were a few rule changes I hadn't yet seen play out. Prior to this season, the women's game went to four 10 minutes quarters, with some nuanced rules surrounding called and media timeouts. This meant that the standardized media timeouts I was used to no longer had context: Is this the under-12? Under-8?

Of note in the three games I saw: Bands were traveling a little lighter on the lower end this go round. Typically, four sousaphones is pretty standard, with three being occasional and two betting pretty rare. Half of the bands I saw brought just two and the others brought three; I couldn't get a gauge if they had electrically augmented bass that aided in that particular decision making. Notre Dame was the only band from my sessions that came with field drums; everyone else went with the drumset. 

Another one of the rule changes allowed for bands to play in dead ball situations. I noted this would be a relatively small change, since most such moments are the short time between a made basket and the ball being put back into play. Both teams in the third game did take advantage though, mostly on fouls: Syracuse - who I was seeing for the first time since joining the league - had a brief sting they used, and NC State, in the best use I've heard (small sample size, I'll admit) played the Price is Right failhorns after a foul.

I won't give you the full social media roundup this go round - nearly all of it was on Twitter at @80mins - but you can certainly check out the live reactions there.

The Greensboro Coliseum is dark this week - at least from basketball action - but I'm glad I can look forward to the best tournament of its kind in the nation each year here at home. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Hanging 'em Up

During the Super Bowl, Seattle Seahawks standout Marshawn Lynch famously announced his retirement with the hood-poignant imagery of cleats over a telephone wire. Around the same time, talk began of retirement from the Detroit Lions' Calvin Johnson, and while not yet final, his departure would remove another big name from the game. Both Lynch and Johnson entered in the first round of the 2007 draft, and are retiring relatively young after less than a decade in the league.

I love seeing the best in the world compete, but I sincerely hope players stepping away from the game while they still have their relative health becomes a trend. The dangers of football are increasingly well documented: Football is a sport that takes years from one's life and life from one's years. While we are now coming to a full understanding of CTE, concussions, and other head trauma, the physical toll it takes on players has been common knowledge for a long time: Men who can no longer dress themselves, walk up a flight of stairs, or get a night's rest without the use of painkillers. As much as I love the sport, there is no need for the continued decline of quality of life that comes from years of playing professional football.

While self-preservation is smart, Lynch is also making another example that others would do well to emulate. Beastmode reportedly hasn't touched any of the nearly $50 million he made from the NFL, instead susbsisting on endorsements and other income. We've seen that sometime the fast, big money of professional sports leaves as quickly as it comes. It seems that Lynch has planned against that well, allowing him to get in, have a fulfilling career, and get out to pursue the next passion while he's still young and healthy enough to enjoy it. I hopet o see others follow in his footsteps.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

To Be Young, Gifted, and Black

With all pardons asked for referencing a particular pachyderm in the same sentence as a former Auburn quarterback, race has been the elephant in the room for all of Cam Newton's almost-certain MVP season. It has been the undercurrent, consciously or unconsciously of a lot of the criticism he has received this season, and because his season is longer than all but one other quarterback's, so it continues.

Newton is, of course, far from the only black quarterback in the league, nor is he the only black quarterback to reach this level of success. In an interview on Mike and Mike, Ryan Clark expressed that it's not an issue of race, but of culture. After all Russell Wilson, who earned a Super Bowl ring two years ago and came close this past year, is Cam's contemporary, also a black quarterback, and hasn't gotten the same degree of scrutiny that Newton has. It's worth noting, however, that Wilson's teammate Richard Sherman has. Sherman shares with Newton a certain panache - swag, if you will - that is offputting. It's cultural, certainly, but the fact that it is expressed by a black man is no small part of the equation. It's true: Cam dabs, smiles, and dances; he also gives game balls to children and is a presence in his community. Still, the former is cause enough that there's something "not quite right".

SB Nation's Spencer Hall - one of the finest writers of our time, in my opinion - remarked on a different cultural phenomenon: That of the southern gentleman. He notes that his Super Bowl opponent, Peyton Manning is less his foil and more his kinsman. The parallels of being SEC quarterbacks and number one overall picks are noted, but less often stated is that Cam is southern. This is likely because one definition of being southern - not the only, mind you, but one that tends to stick - may omit the word "white" from its spoken qualifiers but never from the imagination. Newton is southern in a way that's not necessarily thought of as such because the prevailing qualifier - black - never goes unstated.

Put another way: Cam Newton is a black college marching band.

Show style marching, as done at this country's Historically Black Colleges and Universities, is almost exclusively a southern art form. Owing directly to the legacy of their founding, the overwhelming majority of HBCUs are located in the south. Whether you're at Clark Atlanta or Tennessee State, FAMU or the eponymous Southern University itself, the style was innovated and continues to be carried out in the south. And yet, while Jackson State and Jacksonville State are but 4 1/2 hours of I-20 away, the Sonic Boom of the South an the Marching Southerners - note how both carry the region even in their nicknames - are worlds apart with respect to marching.

The styles are different, but different doesn't always come without value judgments. Familiarity may lead to stylistic preferences, but it may also lead some to believe that one is "right" and another "wrong". It's part and parcel with the hoopla when Drumline came out: The style depicted was unlike anything the average corps style marcher had ever seen, and so it had to be wrong. But even when Bethune Cookman's tonal basses are doing Blue Devils-quality runs, or A&T closes with a Cadets-style company front, there is still an unease for some. Score sheets, like standardized tests, are normed on a predominately white experience; so too is Cam's conduct and adherence to the "unwritten rules" of playing the role of quarterback, which is normed similarly. But like the HBCU band, Cam is first and foremost having fun with what he's doing, and largely putting on a show for those who game to see him. It's not just for judges or just for points, though there's no shortage of those. He's here to move the crowd. So when you dab on 'em, Cam, make sure you're hitting 90 degrees.
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