Drum Corps International
2015 DCI Directors of the Year
(Left to right) Mark Arnold, Tom French and Ibe Sodawalla were recognized for their leadership during the 2015 DCI World Championships in Indianapolis.Photo by: Drum Corps International

2015 DCI Directors of the Year

by Tim Webber

Working tireless hours behind the scenes, corps directors play a huge part in the formation and development of World and Open Class drum corps.

While most would undoubtedly be happy to shrug off the credit and pass it along to their instructional staff and volunteers, there is no questioning the importance of the role they play.

Each year, directors vote amongst themselves to determine the Open and World Class corps directors who will be honored with the Dr. Bernard Baggs Leadership Award and the Dr. David Kampschroer Leadership Award.

This year, those honors go to Mark Arnold of the Blue Knights and Ibe Sodawalla of Legends.

Arnold, who is receiving award for the second time, led the Blue Knights this year to the corps’ best finish since 2000. In just two years, the corps has jumped from 10th place to sixth, and shows no signs of slowing down. But Arnold considers the true reward to be working with the performers.

“I’m blessed to be able to work with our kids and staff, and all the people from DCI who dedicate so much of their time to making this the amazing activity that it is to the young people that we serve,” Arnold said.

Arnold, who has been the director of the Blue Knights for 30 years, was inducted into the DCI Hall of Fame in 2014. When he took over the corps in 1985, it finished in 31st place. Since then, he has transformed the corps into a perennial finalist, and expanded the organization to include a winter drum line, an NFL drum line and brass ensemble and multiple educational outreach programs, all under the name Ascend Performing Arts.

Despite all of his efforts, he still finds it humbling to receive the Dr. Baggs Leadership Award.

“It’s an honor because the rest of the directors vote for this reward,” Arnold said.  “To be voted amongst your peers, that’s really special.”

Ibe Sodawalla’s Legends became the feel-good story of 2015 as the corps made a competitive surge in their 10th anniversary season.

Never finishing higher than seventh at the Open Class World Championship Finals in the last decade, the corps finished fifth this August in Michigan City and made the World Championship Semifinals in Indianapolis for the first time in its history.

“I think it snuck up on us,” Sodawalla said. “We knew we were capable of having our best drum corps season ever, (but) I don’t think the membership knew that they had the capability of knocking on the doors of the top groups this year, so being in that competitive fight was quite exhilarating.”

Sodawalla is chairman of the Open Class Advisory Committee, and is responsible for a lot of the work behind-the-scenes that has contributed to the growth and stability of the corps within the division. Now, it’s his own corps that’s becoming competitive.

“I work really hard behind the scenes as the Open Class Chair, but when they recognize the efforts of my work as a director, it’s just always very humbling and I’m very honored,” Sodawalla said.

Sodawalla is a two-time recipient of the Open Class Director of the Year honor, having last received the award in 2009.

In addition to the two Director of the Year awards, DCI also gives out the George Bonfiglio Chairman’s Award to an individual who demonstrates exceptional leadership on behalf of DCI.

This year, the George Bonfiglio Chairman’s Award was presented to DCI Board of Directors member Tom French.

“When discussing the potential recipients of this year’s award, (DCI Executive Director) Dan Acheson and I came to the conclusion very quickly and with certainty,” said Fred Morrison, director of the Crossmen and current chairman of the DCI Board of Directors. “The dramatic growth that DCI is experiencing today can be traced back to work that Tom French, Dan Acheson and the entire DCI staff put into play with cohesive business planning and improved management structure more than five years ago.”

“Tom’s input is always welcome,” Morrison said. “Thank you for your unselfish giving of time, talent and treasure. Your impact on DCI is enduring.”

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