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Sunday, July 29, 2018

Laundry Day

As I prepare to head to NightBEAT, there's little question what I'll wear: A Carolina Crown shirt. Specifically, my most recently purchased piece of Crown merchandise, which is purple, one of the corps' historic colors.

I tend to approach my drum corps fandom much as I do my sports fandom, an environment in which, as Jerry Seinfeld famously quipped, we root for laundry. There are a couple of major disconnects with this as it relates to the DCI sphere, though. The first is the ever-changing nature of DCI uniforms. If I showed up in red and green in support of Santa Clara Vanguard, for example, it would be at odds with their current look. Same for Crown's purple or cream, and even the Bluecoats ditched their eponymous color and won a championship in spite of it.

The other is that as much as DCI touts itself a Marching Music's Major League, it operates differently. As an association, DCI probably more closely mirrors the craft beer and RV industries. The first fight they face is the value proposition. Stone's opposition isn't Dogfish Head; both of them are competing with Budweiser, Miller, and Coors. Likewise, the goal of the RV industry is to get you to choose that mode of vacationing over hotels or other means; whether you choose a Jayco or Coleman comes secondary. In sports, some of the smaller leagues like Major League Lacrosse and the WNBA benefit from cultivating fans of the sport. In drum corps, the primary objective is getting new fans into shows and choosing the experience.

Drum corps fans also behave markedly differently than sports fans. Booing, for example, is frowned upon. There's a mutual respect between not only the competitors, but the fans. And what's perhaps the most incongruent: As a subjectively objective, arts-based activity, there can be acknowledgment that you like another team better than your own. As a sports fan, that's virtually unheard of, at least in a head-to-head setting. But there have been years where I simply haven't liked "my" corps' show as much as a competitor's. There are those who would throw the whole competitive system away and just observe excellence. For my money, I love the competition, but as long as corps are putting great shows on the field, we're all winning.

Marching Orders

"From the world's most famous beach, Daytona Beach, Florida, please welcome the Marching Wildcats of Bethune Cookman University - the PRIDE!"

On August 3, Marching Orders, chronicling Bethune Cookman's Marching Wildcats through their auditions, will debut on Netflix. The series will be the latest to bring marching/athletic music to the small screen. Bama State Style featured the Mighty Marching Hornets of Alabama State in 2015, and more recently, Clash of the Corps focused on DCI. The Marching Wildcats themselves were previously the subject of their own YouTube series, Beyond the Fifty. Expect a bandhead influx on Netflix this coming Friday.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Popcorn's Ready

There's no love lost between me and Terrell Owens. As you know, I'm an Eagles fan, so as you can imagine, my mood on him soured rapidly circa 2005, given his controversy with my own team, and the gall to go to a hated rival. Still, with the soothing salves of time and a Lombardi Trophy, I don't hold much of a grudge, and even when he was persona non grata, I could never deny his talent.

TO was selected to enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame with the class of 2018. It's an honor that frankly, I believe is overdue. He agrees. But as he did in his playing days, Owens is doing it his way: He has chosen to boycott the enshrinement festivities in Canton, opting instead to celebrate at his alma mater, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. In turn, the Hall's ceremony will not individually honor Owens, though he will still be enshrined.

For his decision to skip the ceremony, TO cites players - "past, present and the future" - whose skills should have made them first ballot selections but whose dreams were deferred. This applies to any number of players, of course, but I can't help noticing Owens himself fits the description.

I'm not knocking TO's decision to boycott NFL activities - indeed, I've been known to do the same myself. I actually like how he's planning to incorporate his alma mater, an otherwise unheralded FCS program that gave the now-Hall of Famer a shot. But amid his protest, there's one other factor to consider, that if it wasn't part of the decision making, may at least be a welcome side effect.

One of Owens' classmates is Brian Dawkins, arguably the most beloved former Eagle of the modern era. Eagles fans will travel to Canton by the thousands, and it's not unreasonable to believe the reception for TO's enshrinement may fall short of unconditional positive regard. While it would take quite a set of unsavory folks to boo a guy during his Hall of Fame induction, Philly fans would be just those people, if for no other reason than to keep up the brand. And even if there's love in those boos, it's not something you should have to endure during what should be the pinnacle of your legacy. TO saves himself from that potential by celebrating his favorite thing - himself - in a place where everyone's there to do the same.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Occidentally Overlooked

Courtesy of GeoMidpoint and Google Maps
I'm well aware of East Coast bias. Frankly, I've got it in spades. I've been known to call western North Carolina "out west" and disregard any state that wasn't one of the 13 colonies. but I don't think I realized how much the Pac-12 is isolated from the rest of the Power Five teams until I saw it mapped out.

While I tend to equate the Pac-12 with their West Coast roots, the conference actually has all of the P5 schools in the Mountain and Pacific time zones. They've got every school west of the Rockies, of the Continental Divide, and save for Texas Tech, the entire western half of the country, as divided by the continental US' geographic midpoint. In addition to fighting the media trust in New York, Atlanta, and Chicago, they're just plain far from the rest of the schools in the Power 5.

There are a few other markers that hammer home this point. The geographic center of the Power 5 schools is in Argyle, MO; about an hour from Mizzou and 100 miles as the crow flies from the mean center of US population. Without factoring in the Pac-12, that marker moves about 300 miles east to Morgantown, KY. The Pac-12's geographic midpoint is in Austin, NV; the next closest conference midpoint is the Big 12 in Broken Arrow, OK, which sits on virtually the same meridian as the midpoint of the the Power 5's east-west midpoint (Wahpeton, ND, with Oregon and Boston College being the extremes). In short, the Pac-12 is far from everything and everyone else, and while they haven't always done themselves favors in scheduling, the map does tip pretty solidly away from them.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Earning Their Stripes

photo via @USFFootball
photo via @USFFootball
USF's switch from Under Armour to Adidas as a uniform supplier became official on July 1, and like many, I awaited the release of the new threads. This weekend they dropped what I assume is the primary home look on Twitter. A few things stand out to me:
-Instead of the USF or BULLS wordmarks, we opted for South Florida. This is notable because there was a time when we were style guide sticklers for USF like our neighbors to the east, despite literally spelling South Florida in our fight song. While I fell in lockstep with the university branding for years, I welcome South Florida, especially since it will hopefully stave off some of the "UCF-I mean, USF" we get now.
-We went with metallic gold instead of the university color gold (khaki). There's a thin line between lame and lamé, but I think I like it, especially with the helmet.
 -Gold/Green/Green has always been my favorite home look.

All in all, the look is solid. In our history, USF uniforms haven't been too up or two down (with perhaps a notable abomination or two) and I don't think this changes that. There's some unnecessary textured/scaly bits because Adidas gonna Adidas, but overall, I'm for it. Can't wait to see what else we've got!

Monday, July 23, 2018

Takin' It to the Street

I was never much of a console gamer.

An arcade denizen, sure. But the first console the graced the Tarver household was a Nintendo 64, contraband smuggled in by my younger brother and played furtively in the precious hours of parental absence until we were found out.

Fast forward several years. It was the summer before senior year of college, my summer job on campus netted me more money than I've ever made at one time, and in true nouveau riche fashion, I splurged on what was then a next-gen game system. Because of that 64 - most specifically, The WWF/E games Wrestlemania 2000 and No Mercy - I stuck with Nintendo as a platform, hoping THQ and AKI would recreate that magic on GameCube. They didn't.

A couple of weeks ago, while sidelined from doing much else, I hopped back on the GameCube, which is hooked up to a small LCD TV that doubles as my laptop's second screen. I popped in NBA Street Vol. 2 and instantly got reacquainted with an old friend.

The NBA Street franchise is the second series to begin under the EA Sports BIG label, and the first focused on a "Big Four" sport. The series used its NBA license to put familiar faces into a streetball context, pitting 3 on 3 teams against one another in game that defaulted to 21. The games debuted at the height of the NBA's hip hop era, a time when the league's image was virtually and controversially indistinguishable from the rap music of the day. Objectively and subjectively, Allen Iverson was one of the faces of the league, advancing to the NBA Finals on a 76ers team that literally had a mascot named Hip Hop. Elsewhere in the sports/entertainment world, the And1 Mixtape Tour was putting a 21st century spin on the Harlem Globetrotters, and the WWF/E was in the transition from the Attitude Era to the rise of John Cena.

Volume 2 tends to be my go-to of the series, living in the sweet spot of the franchise's advancements and fun, exciting, but relatively easy gameplay. The players in the Street series play above the rim - cartoonishly so, in fact - with exciting gravity-defying dunks, otherworldly handles, and fast gameplay. In true streetball fashion standard games are to 21 (win by two). Volume 1 set the foundation and earned the series the clout that allowed Volume 2 to level up. A generic hip hop soundtrack was replaced by licensed music, and playground color commentary was replaced by legendary hip hop host Bobbito Garcia. Of the latter, Bobbito laid down a vocal track so prolific, you could get several games in and swear he was still freestyling. Like in its predecessor, tricks and combos would charge a meter towards a gamebreaker, a nearly unstoppable shot or dunk that results in bonus points, and subtracts from your opponent. Only Volume 2 featured the second-level gamebreaker, executed through a cutscene that involves the whole team. A decade and a half ago, the game begat battles with friends and family in what was for me the waning days of college. A GQ piece dubbed it the greatest basketball video game of all time, and I can't say I disagree.

Not that I didn't love the third installment as well. If Vol. 2 reminisced on the childhood playground days (and indeed, its main theme was Pete Rock and CL Smooth's They Reminisce Over You), NBA Street V3 was the basketball court as high art. Common's voice waxed poetic on homecourts through the US, Canada, and the UK; Kanye's The College Dropout had dropped the year before, Def Poetry Jam was airing on HBO, and hip hop's conscious phase served as a foil to the crunk era, also in full swing. Here, the dunkers were artists, affixing authentic signatures to above the rim Rembrandts. Bobbito's voice talent returned, and the game was more customizable than ever - you could create whole courts (I've made one for every city, state, or metro I've ever lived in), or send your created ballers to the barber shop or get their kick game right. V3 also added a dunk contest, and gave players the opportunity to control the action during gamebreakers.

The series would advance once more, to NBA Street Homecourt, but by then it had left and platform I had - the same inertia that got me a Gamecube years before stuck me with a Wii in the generation where Homecourt debuted on PS3 and XBox 360. Still, I'm led to believe that the series had already peaked and already had the best it had to offer.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

In The Beginning

UMBC Down and Dirty Dawg Band, Homecoming 2002
UMBC doesn't have a marching band.

It's never needed one, at least not for the traditional reason, as we have no football team. But a simple plan to make us mobile over a decade and a half ago has grown in a big way.

Sixteen years ago, I was entering my senior year at UMBC. I had been given the go-ahead by Athletics to purchase some field drums, allowing the usually stationary pep band to move. Typically bound to a drumset, the then-less than five year old Down and Dirty Dawg Band was increasingly called into action for university events - sports beyond just basketball, pep rallies (usually for the chess team) and other activities. We started with a bass drum, two snares, a set of quads, and a pair of cymbals, if memory serves me correctly. Living on campus that summer, I had the pleasure of unboxing them and putting them into play for the first time.

In our first year, they were put to good use. The entire pep band marched in the inaugural Homecoming parade. An ad-hoc drumline performed at FunkFest, a collaborative program put on by many of UMBC's black student organizations. In the years that followed, the drumline has grown, bother in size and stature. They perform, both independently and with the pep band, at UMBC games and have become an integral part of the gameday experience. Mobile gigs and parade, including Catonsville's 4th of July parade, are now standard.

Timeline of UMBC's NCAA Tournament run,
UMBC Magazine, Spring 2018
As UMBC made history in the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, the UMBC contingent in Charlotte got to add to their (admittedly unexpected) extended stay by marching in the St. Patrick's Day Parade. Never in my wildest dreams could I have anticipated that a modest move to get us in motion would have led us to capitalizing on the biggest victory in men's NCAA Tournament history in such a cool way.

Proudly we hail to thee.

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