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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Champion's Honor

I read--and could have assumed as much--that there was a moment of silence before yesterday's Honda Battle of the Bands to honor Robert Champion, the FAMU drum major who lost his life to hazing in November.

This moment of silence was observed by thousands of HBCU band members and the tens of thousands that came to see them perform. To those band members: You should all be extremely proud of yourselves. You are part of a long and storied tradition of arguably the most popular piece of the marching arts spectrum: The HBCU marching band. You are but one step in a legacy whose power can be evidenced by the 60,000 who piled into the Georgia Dome to see you on that day. To the additional thousands of HBCU marching band alumni who were undoubtedly at the Honda, you should share in that pride.

But I hope sincerely that during that moment of silence, something else entered folks hearts and minds. To those who have ever swung a paddle, a fist, a foot or an instrument so that a fellow bandsman or woman could "get down", or stood idly by as a party to such offenses, you are sadly part of a much darker legacy. It is this legacy, this insidious institution of hazing, which claimed the life of Robert Champion.

Let's end hazing.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Set Sail to the (Big) East

The Big East announced today that the United States Naval Academy will be joining the conference. Because of outstanding commitments, they won't be a conference member until 2015, but that puts the Big East one step closer to the stated goal: a 12 team conference and a conference championship game. Selfishly, it's another game within reach for me--Annapolis is about six hours from Greensboro, but more importantly, I've got plenty of reason to be in Maryland. I've made my way to Navy-Marine Corps Stadium once before for the NCAA lacrosse tournament, and I look forward to having a chance to head back.

Leader? Legend?

The two words above name the divisions of the Big Ten conference, and as we reflect on the life of Joe Paterno, many will question if he was both or neither.

I will say up front that my ties to Penn State and Joe Paterno are tangential and few. I grew up in Delaware, where Penn State is often the default major college program, and as a fan of the sport of college football, Paterno was clearly on my radar. Until late last season, Paterno was nearly universally regarded as a paragon of the sport, espousing a sort of old school leadership that may very well be the last of its kind. In an age where coaches go on a whim wherever their wallets take them, Paterno spent 45 years as head coach at Penn State. It was widely believed that whenever he retired or passed away, he would be widely celebrated.

Late last season, Jerry Sandusky, a former Penn State assistant coach, was alleged to have committed what now amounts to over 50 reprehensible cases of sexual abuse of a minor. It quickly came out that Joe Paterno had been informed at some point and did relatively little to ensure Sandusky was brought to justice or even keep him away from the program. For this action--or rather, inaction--Paterno's legacy changed very quickly. He was removed unceremoniously from his coaching position, his name was stricken from the yet-to-be-awarded Big Ten Championship trophy, And many who had lionized the career of the head Nittany Lion were now rebuking him. Sadly, before we could even begin to make sense of this complex situation, Paterno passed away at the age of 85 two months later, leaving many confused as to how I feel about his legacy. A couple of well thought out responses are available here by Bomani Jones and here by Pete Pereira.

As for me, it is my belief that one can condemn Paterno for his inaction while at the same time celebrating his achievements and what he meant to the world of college football, Penn State, and those with whom he interacted personally. I wrote something shortly after the death of Michael Jackson, and if I may quote myself, with regards to his great career and his alleged improprieties with minors: One of these facts does not excuse the other, but just as importantly, one of these facts does not render the other irrelevant.

When all is said and done, I think Joe Paterno will be remembered as a man who did a lot of things right and at least one thing horribly, horribly wrong. Such will be his complicated legacy.

Rest in peace, Joe Paterno.

Monday, January 23, 2012

2011 Year in Review

If I keep at this pace, I'll start doing my year in review in February. As it is, it's over halfway through January, but let's close the books on 2011, shall we?

Live Events
The birth of my daughter - it's not sports/marching related and I don't give a damn, it was far and away the biggest thing to happen in 2011. Anastasia was born on March 13 and my life is forever changed for the better. On the sports/marching front, though, there are a few things worth reporting. I watched UMBC lacrosse play Hopkins in the Faceoff Classic from the hospital room (no, my wife was not in active labor at the time). Upon seeing that event scheduled, I thought that I would have loved to make it, but knowing it was less than two weeks before the due date, I knew it wasn't a possibility. Anastasia was born the next morning. She was in the neonatal ICU for her first week; I live in the state of North Carolina and it was the height of March Madness, but if you wanted to find a place in the state where no one gives a damn about college basketball, this was it. Nowadays, she's starting to become quite the drummer thanks to strategic brainwashing.

ACC Tournament - Rewind about a week or so, and I made my way to the ACC men's basketball tournament for the second year in a row. Same MO this time around--we headed to the Greensboro Coliseum lot to see what we could see and once again got in for a decent ticket. We also checked out the then-newly opened ACC Hall of Champions, which is on the Coliseum grounds.

UMBC lacrosse at Chapel Hill - Actually, I missed this one. We had originally planned to be there, but a friend of ours got married that day. It was even in the plans to head to both--the wedding was east of Chapel Hill and early enough that it seemed like a possibility--but confusion on my part about when the game started led to us missing it. We would have been witnessing a loss for the Dawgs anyway.

DCI Tour of Champions/Summer Music Games of Southwest Virginia - I was excited about DCI's new Tour of Champions format and looked forward to attending an event. Carolina Crown's NightBEAT, which I typically attend anyway, was one, and my crew and I headed down, even forgoing the usual tailgating to check out what all the format had to offer. There were some cool goings on as far as pre-show activities and warmups. We made it through the intro and Teal Sound's performance before we had to evacuate the stadium (and its metal stands) as the skies opened up to the thunderstorm that ultimately canceled the event. The fine folks at Carolina Crown did their best to make it up to the audience though; they first announced they would honor tickets at the Tidewater Summer Music Games (also a Crown event) and ultimately struck a deal with the folks who run the Summer Music Games event in Salem, VA to honor tickets there as well. That show had me sitting behind the end zone and viewing the show from the side (the tickets available were standing room only) but there's plenty to be said for being able to take in a show in the picturesque mountains of Southwest VA.

FSU vs. Wake Forest - As I have the past few years, I went to see FSU football with my friends James and Rachel, both Florida State alums. As this game was adjacent to the Dixie Classic Fair, we decided to fairgate for this one. Definitely a good time, though it was an FSU loss.

NC Pro-Am - I headed out to Durham to see the NC Pro-Am on the campus of NC Central, a basketball summer series consisting of matchups between teams comprised of professional and amateur athletes. On the day I was there, Rasheed Wallace, Austin Rivers, and Seth Curry were all present.

Drumline Live - If ever there were a stage production made for me, this was it. Drumline Live is to HBCU marching bands what Blast! is to drum corps. The tour brought it to Charlotte this past year, and it was every bit as spectacular as you might imagine.

Snare a World Record - On the 4th of July, I gathered in downtown Greensboro in an attempt to snare a world record. The goal was 1,776 drummers doing a roll at once. We fell short of that number, and the record (though we set a new US record) but it was nice to come out of retirement!

Biggest Surprises
Realignment - Who new conference realignment would go gorillas this past year? Let's see if my math is right on this one, in no particular order: Texas A&M and Missouri SECeded, WVU and TCU EXIIted, Syracuse and Pitt get ACCepted, and UCF, Houston, Boise State, San Diego State, and SMU join those who were left BEhind. But that oversimplifies it, doesn't it? In reality, we sat perched on the precipice of superconferences for a solid portion of the year, and I found it simultaneously exciting and unnerving, particularly as an alum of a school in the Big East, which still has the sword of Damocles hanging over its head.

Scandals - Two huge scandals sent shockwaves through both the college football and marching worlds. In football, allegation of Jerry Sandusky's child molestation at Penn State rocked a program and ultimately led to the unceremonious firing of Joe Paterno, coach of the program for 45 years.

In marching, a hazing incident at FAMU led to the death of one of the drum majors of the Marching 100. The 100 still remains on suspension as Robert Champion's death and many other hazing allegations within the legendary, Sudler Trophy-winning band.

The Cadets - it is by no means a surprise that The Cadets are back on top of DCI. The surprise is that I was rooting for them every step of the way. I've often been critical of the corps, and often flat out not liked what they brought to the field. but this year's production, Between Angels and Demons, was one for the ages, and I was glad to see it take the gold.

Looking forward to in 2012
This spring the Charlotte Hounds, one of two new franchises in Major League Lacrosse, will begin play.  While I'm not a huge follower of the MLL, I'm looking forward to having a relatively local team, and it's my plan to head down for the home opener in late April. I'm also looking forward to Greensboro once again hosting NCAA basketball tournament action.

80 Minutes and Beyond
Finally, I just want to say a few things about what's happening over here. In 2011, I started the 80 Minutes (Give or Take) podcast,  bought, and fulfilled my promise of "more" at the start of college football season by giving you the Band on the Road project, the BOTR Game of the Week, and the most extensive bowl band coverage the internet has to offer in the Big Band Bowl Battle. What's in store for 2012? Stay tuned...

Sunday, January 15, 2012

For Baltimore, and Maryland...

In the Baltimore Sports Legends Museum, part of the Colts display
is the back of a Mayflower truck.
I know I'm speaking on this before its time, but fear not, Baltimore, I'm quite sure I don't have enough karmic pull vis-a-vis the Ravens for this to be a jinx.

Right now, the Baltimore Ravens are two games away--two tough games, mind you, vs. the New England Patriots and whoever wins the NFC, mind you, but two games nonetheless--from winning a Super Bowl in the home of the Colts. Should that happen, might it exorcise some demons that first appeared nearly 30 years ago on a snowy March night?

Make no mistake, I've got no birthright to the ire of the Baltimore faithful against the Colts. The team left town when I was two years old and still living in Boston. Still, having married into a Baltimore family and attended UMBC, I feel for the city that woke up on the morning of March 29, 1984 without a football team. And while folks will quickly cite that Baltimore later turned and did the same to Cleveland, it's worth noting that all records stayed in Cleveland and were reactivated when the Cleveland Browns returned, meaning that Jim Brown was never in jeopardy of the likes of Jamal Lewis or Ray Rice breaking his franchise records as Peyton Manning has to Johnny Unitas. Still, as a city that loves football, Baltimore quickly embraced the Ravens, and the Super Bowl following the 2000 season certainly didn't hurt.

Even with the success of the Ravens franchise, though, there is still a sore spot when it comes to the team that left town. The team in Indianapolis has taken 7 of 10 from the Ravens, including an eight game, nine year drought, and while Baltimore notched one of those victories this year, wins weren't exactly hard to come by against the 2011 Colts. But now, a group of men, only a handful of whom were even alive in 1984 are poised to potentially make the ultimate statement: To walk into the city of Indianapolis, into the House that Irsay Built, and walk out with a championship. It may finally bring the story of Baltimore football full circle.

Should they accomplish this feat, I say they should drive the Lombardi Trophy home in a Mayflower truck.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Doing too much or doing it right?

So first of all, happy new year! As you can probably guess, New Year's Day (or in this case, 1/2), filled with parades and college football, is essentially a high holy day over here. I hope you've enjoyed the Big Band Bowl Battle, but I realize that a corollary is that I haven't given y'all much else in a couple weeks. There's probably a year in review coming up in not too long, as it has the past two years, but in the mean time...

While I will admit to a relatively small sample size, it seems that when it comes to basketball games that fall over school breaks (most notably winter break) major conference schools are more likely to go bare bones with respect to pep band, cheerleaders, and other spirit squads than mid-majors (side note-calling every non-major school a mid-major is like your smallest size being a "medium", but I digress). As a member of the pep band at UMBC, then a Northeast Conference school, I expected to be at every home basketball game, even those that fell over break, and with six week layoff between fall and spring semesters, it was a sizable break. I don't recall it ever having been explicitly stated to us, and pep band was a semesterly course, so there was no grade hanging over our head between semesters, but I think all of us just sort of understood our commitment to be for the basketball season, and we did our best to attend those games, which for me meant driving just over an hour from Wilmington, DE to Catonsville. And on the rare occasions I couldn't make it, it wasn't because the band was off-duty. Now, working at UNCG, a Southern Conference school, I see the same from our pep band: Regardless of when the game falls, there is a band presence.

In contrast, a few winters ago I headed up to Virginia Tech for a game. UMBC was playing there over break, and Blacksburg's only a slight detour from the path we beat between Greensboro and MD/DE for the holidays, so we made the trip. No cheerleaders. No band. No student section to speak of. Similarly, a recent article detailing the UNCG game at Duke this past December spoke of the "replacement" band they brought in during break. And my friend Brian, who was covering a few games in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for Rush the Court, told a similar tale: No pep bands present, and cheerleaders generally lacking.

So why is that? I've got a few theories. One is that the mid-majors are more likely to be regional institutions, meaning that band members and cheerleaders probably live closer to the school and it's easier to get a critical mass together. The majors, by contrast, draw from a a wider area, making it tough to make it back, especially if residence halls are closed. How could we have expected the Duke pep band to make the trip back to Durham from New Jersey over the holidays? Another theory is the importance, real or perceived, of those spirit squads to the overall picture of college hoops at the institution. While attendance was low at the Tech game I attended, I'm sure their coffers weren't hurting any, and those who showed up showed up because they wanted to see Hokie hoops. Mid-majors may be more likely to sell the entire package, which includes cheer, dance, and pep bands. Finally, the fact of the matter is, when UMBC or UNCG is playing a game over break, it is at least someone on our level, with the occasional chance that we're bringing in a heavier hitter. At VT, for example, they were playing a mid-major they fully expected to beat during the week of Christmas. Forgive them for not rolling out the red carpet for that one.

So who's right? My bias is clear, and while I can't fault those who have a harder time getting the band back together, kudos to the schools providing the full experience every time.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

B4: 2012 BCS National Championship Game - Alabama vs. LSU

Big Band Bowl Battle (B4) Disclaimer: Whenever possible, I tried to post band videos on equal footing; that is, amateur vs. amateur, professional vs. professional, pregame vs. pregame, halftime vs. halftime, and so on. I am, of course, limited to that which is available on YouTube. While I can appreciate if I selected a video that doesn't portray your band in the best light, keep in mind B4 is for entertainment purposes only. Thanks for stopping by!

By the time the BCS National Championship Game is played, we will have had over a month to tell the story's we've all heard: There shouldn't be a rematch. Alabama didn't even win its division. They had their shot. The first game was boring. This is why we need a playoff. Rest assured, neither Alabama, LSU, their respective fanbases, or most of the Southeastern United States give a damn about any of that. They're each fired up to meet a familiar foe in perhaps the capital of the SEC West on college football's grandest stage.

The football matchup will hopefully have a slightly different tenor than the 9-6 overtime defensive struggle earlier in the year, but the band matchup certainly will. The Golden Band from Tigerland only sent a pep band to Tuscaloosa for the earlier matchup, while the Million Dollar Band was at full strength, possibly boasting more band fronts than LSU had members that day. Each band will be in full force in New Orleans, not just in the Superdome, but all over town. With a game of this caliber, expect each of these Sudler Trophy recipients to have a busy engagement calendar. Both bands will likely hit the French Quarter (possibly both on official business and recreational time) and strains of Hold that Tiger and Yea, Alabama will be heard throughout the Big Easy. And while LSU has a home state advantage, I'm sure Tide fans will roulent into NO in droves as well. There's no questioning the acumen of either football team or band. This is truly a national championship caliber matchup for all 80 minutes.

A few items of note: While Alabama uses the Million Dollar Band moniker, this will truly be a million dollar matchup. Travel, hotel, and most notably the seats that each band will have to purchase to occupy for the game itself, the pricetag for this game between the two bands will be nearly one million dollars (h/t to Dave over at Tailgating Ideas for pointing that one out to me).

Secondly, a pair of Sudler Trophy-winning bands have met in the BCS Championship game three times before. Each of those previous matchups included one of the teams that will play on Monday night. The Golden Band from Tigerland has twice marched into the Superdome against another Sudler winner with a national championship on the line; they faced the Pride of Oklahoma in 2004 and TBDBITL in 2008. The Million Dollar Band made their way to the pinnacle of pageantry, facing Texas' Showband of the Southwest in the Rose Bowl in 2010. In each case, the teams linked to these bands emerged with a championship.


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