You can never count the Blue Devils out.
After finishing fourth at Thursday’s DCI World Championship Prelims, it looked like their shot at a repeat championship was in doubt. But as the book was beginning to close, the corps from Concord, California calmly climbed back up the scoreboard, finishing second on Friday and completing the comeback with an emphatic victory over Carolina Crown Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
“From excitement to pure bliss, just knowing that we worked hard all summer to get here is great,” Blue Devils drum major Niko Martinez said. “We’ve made major strides this season. We haven’t been worried about the scores, we’ve just been focusing on ourselves and pushing through."
In front of a venue-record crowd of 22,085 fans, the Blue Devils (1st, 97.650) became the first corps in nearly two decades to win a World Championship after placing fourth or lower in Prelims. Their 2015 title is their 17th, most among World Class corps. The corps also picked up caption awards for total visual performance, percussion, and, for the eighth year in a row, color guard.
For director David Gibbs, this year has been just as exciting as any of the corps’ other championship years, if not moreso.
“Shocking and thrilling,” Gibbs said. “I really can’t put it in words at this point in time, but it is amazing.
“We had amazing competition that drove us to work everyday harder and harder,” he said. “Crown was amazing, Bluecoats, Santa Clara, Cadets. I wish everybody could have gotten a gold medal tonight. It was a tough one. It’s a great win, I really am happy for our kids. I wish there was more happiness for everybody else, but they should be proud of their efforts.”
In her second year as Blue Devils drum major, Alana Stevenson saw similarities between this year’s corps and last year’s record-setting group.
“(In the past few days,) I have seen such dedication and focus and energy like I’ve never seen before,” Stevenson said. “The only time I’ve ever seen anything close to it might’ve been last year at Finals.”
Carolina Crown took the silver medal on Saturday night, but will be left wondering what might have been.
With a score of 97.075 and taking the caption award for general effect, Crown kept it close but was unable to stop the Blue Devils.
“The competitive results weren’t what we expected or wanted, but at the end of the day that’s not what we set out to do,” Crown drum major Hunter Bown said. “Our goal as Carolina Crown is to meet our own standards and we did that tonight. It took a lot of hard work, and we went way further than we ever thought we could.”
In third, the Bluecoats (96.925) made the medal stand for the second year in a row and just the third time in history. The Canton, Ohio corps made a valiant run at second place, but fell 0.150 behind Crown.
“We couldn’t have asked for anything better tonight. That was the one,” drum major Willie Veenstra said. “Everyone was feeling in sync with each other tonight. When it comes down to it, marching side to side with these people has created something, and that’s love.”
A four-horse race developed over the last few weeks of competition, and the top four corps were separated by less than a point heading into the final week of competition. Since the scores can not be listed as 1A through 1D, one corps had to finish fourth. That was the Cadets, who scored 95.900.
“It’s a really, really tough program,” said Cadets director George Hopkins. “We took on more than we maybe even thought we could handle and (the performers) proved us wrong. They did a great show. I’m looking forward to next year to see what we can come up with.”
The Cadets will take home some hardware; going back to Allentown is the Jim Ott award for brass performance, an honor the Cadets have not won since 2005. It’s also the second consecutive year that a fourth-place corps has swiped a caption away from the higher-scoring corps.
Santa Clara Vanguard (93.850) has been nothing if not consistent during Finals week, finishing in fifth place each day. Corps director Jeff Fiedler has no regrets about thinking outside of the box for the corps’ show theme this year.
“We stepped a little bit into a new area for us--musically, visually, and from an effect standpoint,” Fiedler said. “Everyone seemed to enjoy us being different.”
The audience enjoyed Vanguard’s twist so much that they even inserted themselves into the show.
“As we walked in, cell phones started popping on, with lights facing members at the beginning of the show and throughout the program,” Fiedler said. “The audience made themselves part of the show.”
Blue Knights (6th, 91.850) enjoyed the best finish in the corps’ history, tying its sixth-place mark in 2000. In two years, the Denver corps has risen four places and appears set to contend for a medal in the future, according to age-out drum major Aaron Bradford.
“We’re trying to climb that ladder,” Bradford said. “It’s really hard in the activity to bump up there. We pushed our envelope this whole time and tried to get up there into the upper echelon. Next year we’re hoping to try to get a medal. We’re really pushing hard.”
Phantom Regiment (90.325) finished in complete control of seventh place, expanding its lead over eighth place to more than one and a half points.
“Our show was really, really motivational tonight,” Phantom Regiment drum major David Warren said. “Right now we’re about to leave one another, but after this season, we’ll always be together in spirit.”
The Madison Scouts (8th, 88.750) made history by maintaining their lead over the Cavaliers (9th, 88.325). 2015 marks the first time since 1997 that the Men of Madison have defeated the Cavaliers at the World Championship Finals.
“There’s just been good constant progression throughout the entire month of July, and at each one of the regionals they took it to a new level,” corps director Chris Komnick said about his corps members. “They came into this week on fire. They rehearsed really well and put three great performances out on the field.”
Regardless of the outcome, Cavaliers drum major Josh Miller is proud of his corps this year.
“It’s been incredible, especially with some of the things that hit us,” Miller said. “Our corps got pretty sick a couple of weeks ago, and watching the guys overcome that, come back from that and go all-out these last couple of weeks, it’s been amazing to witness. It’s fantastic.”
2015 was a season marked with anniversaries. Legends made the Semifinals in its 10th anniversary season. Spartans earned an Open Class medal in its 60th. While the Boston Crusaders (10th, 86.800) may not have achieved anything noteworthy on the scoreboard in its 75th anniversary season, they enjoyed a thrilling adventure from start to finish.
“That was probably the most memorable thing I’m ever going to experience,” said Boston age-out and sixth-year color guard member Rico Santiago. “So many memories, so many images, so many events. So many connections with my best friends on the field.”
The Blue Stars followed close behind in 11th, with a score of 85.150. The corps was buoyed by an exceptional performance from its drum line, which placed seventh in that caption.
“I think all of the work that we’ve put in over the summer really paid off,” said Blue Stars drum major Lizzie Miller. “You could tell everyone was really enjoying themselves. And that’s all that really matters.”
Not content to simply be in the Finals after squeaking through by the thinnest of margins on Friday, the Crossmen (12th, 85.025) nearly leapfrogged the Blue Stars, settling just 0.125 points behind the La Crosse, Wisconsin corps.
In 2014, the corps received a one-point penalty for a warm-up violation. That penalty was one-tenth away from dropping them out of Finals. This year, the corps received a 1.4-point timing penalty, resulting in even less room for error--just 0.075 points kept the Troopers out of Finals and the Crossmen in.
“’Cardiac Crossmen,’ that’s what we renamed ourselves after last night,” joked Crossmen director Fred Morrison, who added, “This is getting to be a habit. This is two in a row and we don’t really want to do that anymore.”
“It was very, very nice that we were able to come back here on Saturday night and show the crowd what the performance really could be,” Morrison said. “The Crossmen saved their best for last.”
Performing first, the Crossmen kicked off a string of standing ovations for every corps, a testament to the respect that drum corps fans have for each musician performing in the competition. In more minds than one, every performer on the field deserved to wear a gold medal. But tonight, the Blue Devils were the ones to earn that honor, and walked off the field after their encore to one final ovation.
They—and all of the other corps from the 2015 season—will not be soon forgotten.
Contributing: Christina Mavroudis, Casey Smith, Ross Beckman, Lee-Ann Hall