The second decade of the 21st century couldn’t have had a more memorable drum corps conclusion.

2019 was rife with some of the most competitive intrigue the drum corps activity has seen in years. Beyond that, it was chock full of memorable designs from top to bottom.

Forget even just the top of the leaderboard. All the way down the standings, corps reached new milestones and set new standards on the DCI Summer Tour.

Could 2019 go down as one of the most memorable years in DCI history? Perhaps. Here are five reasons why.


Competitive madness at the top


An argument could be made that the race between 2019’s top two was the closest in well over a decade.

Depending how you quantify it, of course, you have to go back nearly 15 years to find a more compelling summer-long race between two top corps than the one seen in 2019. In terms of average margin and head-to-head win percentage of the eventual second-place finisher, no race in that span comes close.

No, not 2015. Blue Devils (1st) won 14 out of 17 meetings with Carolina Crown (2nd).

No, not 2011. The Cadets (1st) won 14 out of 23 meetings with Blue Devils (2nd).

No, not even 2008. Phantom Regiment’s (1st) only win over Blue Devils (2nd) in 17 meetings came on Finals night. An argument could be made the final result was more compelling, but the start-to-finish race was quite one-sided until the waning moments of the season.

The 2019 Blue Devils only won five of their 12 meetings with Bluecoats, with two of those coming on the final two days of the season.

On top of holding a winning head-to-head record, Bluecoats also became the first second-place corps in quite some time to hold an advantage in average margin against that year’s winner — Bluecoats outscored Blue Devils by an average of 0.110 in those 12 matchups.

The last top-two race that compares? Somewhat surprisingly, 2005. Despite The Cadets setting one of four all-time 99-or-better final scores and winning that summer’s Finals by more than 1.5 points over The Cavaliers, the Rosemont corps actually won seven of 13 meetings with its Allentown opponent, and held a noticeable lead in the “average margin” category.

But even so, Blue Devils’ race with Bluecoats in 2019 was quite the anomaly.

A couple of other standout facts in that regard:

  • The 2019 Blue Devils are the only corps to win a gold medal without earning top score at a “regional” in the current century.
  • The 2019 Blue Devils are the first corps to win a gold medal despite never beating that season’s silver medalist by more than three tenths of a point, at any time, since Phantom Regiment in 2008.



Finalist parity


Just think about this for a second. Out of 12 finalist positions, a third of them set the highest score for their respective placement in the last decade.

Bluecoats’ 98.238 defeats the 2013 Blue Devils’ 98.050 for the highest silver-medal score of the past 10 years. Boston Crusaders, in sixth, shattered the previous sixth-place decade-high of 93.675.

Then there’s the Mandarins, whose 88.150 in 2018 was already one of the better 10th-place scores in recent memory. But 89.300 in 2019 crushed that previous corps-best, and set the all-time top mark for a 10th-place finisher.

And finally, Phantom Regiment. The Rockford corps’ score of 87.238 marks the highest a 12th-place corps has ever finished, breaking the previous record set by Crossmen in 2018 (86.750). Regiment’s tally would’ve been good for 11th in seven of the previous eight seasons, or even 10th in 2015.

The Top 12, from top to bottom, were separated by just over 11 points — less than one point per corps. They’ve never been closer.


Diving even deeper

Pacific CrestPacific Crest

Want more evidence? Look right past the Top 12 Finals cutoff.

Spirit of Atlanta was a breakout corps in 2018, rising from 18th in 2017 to 13th. The corps once again took 13th in 2019, with the exact same final score (85.588) as it had earned the previous year.

Pacific Crest became that big mover this season, jumping from 20th to 14th in just one year’s time. The Diamond Bar, California corps set its all-time best score (85.350) by more than three full points.

Both of those scores, in theory, would qualify for a Top 12 spot in 2011, 2012, 2015, 2016, and 2017. Either score would actually be good for as high as 11th in 2012 and 2015.

Just about 13 points separated fourteen corps. Again, that’s less than a point per corps. In, say, 2012, even this year’s 16th-place finisher, Colts, would have owned a Finals-caliber score.

That season, the separation between 1st and 16th was 18.450 points, the highest of the decade. Even last year, it was 15.637, and that was saying something. That was the smallest that gap had been since 1991.

In 2019? Just 14.100. It’s just one quantifier, but the last time the spread between the Top 16 corps was closer than it was in 2019 was 1978.


Open Class on fire


2019 saw plenty of firsts at the Open Class level, but none more noticeable than at the top. Spartans cracked a score of 81.450 at the Open Class Finals, the second highest of any corps at that event in the past five years.

That score is also the Nashua corps’ highest since World and Open Class corps were combined on the same scoring scale in 2011, not to mention it earned the corps its first gold medal since 2007.

But 2019 wasn’t just the Spartans’ story at the Open Class level. In year No. 11 as a competing corps, Legends surged to their first silver medal and first Open Class caption award, taking home top marks in percussion.

Furthermore, Louisiana Stars and Southwind both made noticeable leaps into the top five; Louisiana Stars from eighth to fourth, and Southwind from 10th to fifth. Louisiana Stars came just short of its first Semifinals bid — just one tenth separated the corps from a spot in the Top 25.


Records on records on records

The BattalionThe Battalion

Nineteen different corps set their all-time best season-ending scores in 2019.

Nineteen. That’s more than a third of all active DCI corps.

The best part? Several of those corps are in their first five years of existence, and continue to see remarkable improvement in a short amount of time.

The full list: The Battalion (70.250), Bluecoats (98.238), Encorps (56.750), Genesis (78.725), Gold (77.100), Golden Empire (68.475), Heat Wave (60.050), Incognito (54.550), Legends (78.400), Les Stentors (63.150), Louisiana Stars (73.600), Mandarins (89.300), Pacific Crest (85.350), River City Rhythm (71.075), Shadow (66.300), Southwind (72.363), Spartans (80.350), Vessel (68.500), and Watchmen (62.850).

Disclaimer: Open and World Class began being judged on the same scale for the DCI World Championships in 2011, and for the full season in 2014. Higher Open Class scores earned prior to 2011 on the outdated scale weren’t factored into this data.

Out of that pack, a handful stick out as being particularly rapid upward movers.

  • The Battalion’s 70-point milestone is a more than 20-point improvement from the end of its first season in 2016.
  • Les Stentors’ final mark is nearly 10 points higher than that which the corps earned the last time it attended the DCI World Championships in 2017.
  • 2019 marked the first time that Southwind — the winner of the Most Improved Open Class award — finished a season with a score over 70 points since its return to the DCI landscape in 2016.
  • Vessel nearly cracked 70 points in what was just its second season under its current heading. The corps wrapped up 2018 with a score of 60.700, making this year’s jump the biggest year-to-year improvement of any DCI corps in terms of season-ending result.