Drum Corps International
How Allentown became ""Allentown""

How Allentown became ""Allentown""

by Drum Corps International

If anyone doesn't like going to Allentown, Pa., they sure do a great job of keeping it a secret. The stadium is the only DCI "shrine" we have that we regularly visit, and we'll be going back for two days of drum corps bliss in the coming week. Whether it's walking amongst the corps trucks and buses parked on the street in front of the stadium, or hiking up the big hill to the stands, or enjoying the multiple flavors of the giant snow cones, there are experiences in Allentown that are unique to drum corps. I asked longtime show coordinator Bob Bennett for some thoughts on the history of what we used to know simply as DCI East, now the DCI Eastern Classic. Bob wasn't around at the very beginning, so he asked his predecessor Fred Windish to share some memories. Fred has been involved in drum corps for 38 years and is in his 31st year as an Allentown School District technology education teacher. He sent in the following memories. The first DCI East Championship in Allentown was held on July 8 and 9, 1977. The DCI East Championship had been held before in Lowell, Mass. For some reason, DCI was unable to schedule the event for 1977. This happened rather late and DCI was in a pinch. I had visited DCI Executive Director Donald Pesceone the summer before (1976) to ask about hosting a DCI event in Allentown. I left him with all sorts of maps, diagrams, photos, etc. However, I was unable to find a local sponsor during the coming months. We set our sights on the DCA Championships and linked up with the Buccaneers. Pesceone called me in late March of 1977 and asked if our local group would be willing to conduct his DCI Eastern Championship in Allentown. Of course we agreed to do it, but there was very little time to organize and promote the event. The first year was a rushed effort with little promotion, yet it was successful. That first event included 28 corps. Of those corps, just five are still in existence; including Boston Crusaders, the Cadets, Phantom Regiment, Madison Scouts and Crossmen. The winner was Bayonne Bridgemen with a score of 83.30. Sadly, the Friday morning prelims (the first-ever DCI event in Allentown) featured rain. The event was delayed, but completed. We had no weather problems for Saturday. Tickets were priced at $4, $5, and $6. General Admission was $2. Prelims were $2. Our committee numbered 60 volunteers and has always paid special attention to the needs of the fans. This continues to be a top priority for Bob Bennett's team (including five who have served continuously since 1977). To the best of my recollection, current committee members who were a part of that first event include Kathy and Dale Eck, Thomas and Bernard Brown and Barry Seltzer. The DCI East event was not our original reason for forming. We were putting together a team on behalf of the Reading Buccaneers (Ken Honsberger, president) who were scheduled to host the DCA Championship in Allentown that September. Most early members were ex-Buccaneers. All persons above were former Buccaneers except Kathy, as the corps was all-male then. Other key individuals included former Buccaneers Norman Cimerol, Charles Bednar and Jack Wells. Bill Higgins (not a Buccaneer, but an Emmaus Sentinel) had a big role. Several Crossmen officials pitched in to pull off a hurriedly assembled committee. They included Charlotte and Harold Robinson and Dave Oeschle. There were two other DCI East Chairmen after my ten-year tenure. Next was Ken Honsberger, a former DCI employee and current Platinum Friend of DCI, now living in Dayton, Ohio. Two years later, Bob Bennett took over. What's key here is Bob Bennett simply enclosed a note with his ticket order saying, "Gee, I'd like to help out." He had never marched in a corps, but just liked the concept of doing something good for our great young musicians. We followed up with him and gained he and Leanne in 1979. Leanne started selling tickets when Ken Honsberger was the chairman, and Bob was the corporate sponsorship contact in the Lehigh Valley for the show. In 1990, he took over as Chairman for DCI East when Honsberger moved to Chicago to work for Drum Corps International. Our local committee took great effort (and some expense) to bring in Wes Hobby as our show announcer. Wes is generally considered the premier drum corps announcer of all time. We wanted nothing but the best! The Finals event drew a bit over 8,500 fans. DCI was very pleased, and "the rest is history," as they say. Among the memories from the show's first ten years: The DCI Eastern Classic was televised three times over the former Eastern Educational Television Network. Our local PBS affiliate did the production and transmitted it over the 45-station network broadcasting to cities mostly east of the Mississippi River. Ronald McDonald once appeared and assisted with trophies. That afternoon his van got lost. He called for a committee member to help but got that person's mother instead. When he said, "This is Ronald McDonald calling," she scolded him and hung up. The United States Marine Corps Drum and Bugle Corps appeared here in exhibition. They flew into Allentown on a military jet the morning of the show, and then we bused them to a local American Legion Post in Fountain Hill, Pa. The membership there (mostly older WW II veterans) treated them like royalty, and overfed them with mounds of home cooking brought from households throughout the neighborhood. It was a big deal for the Marines and Fountain Hill. I was amazed that their corps traveled by bus six miles to the stadium STANDING UP between the seats, so as not to wrinkle their uniform trousers! Beginning in 1978, under the leadership of the late DCI Hall of Fame member Don Whiteley, (then DCI's marketing and promotions director), we unleashed a barrage of special events and appearances throughout the months leading to the show. Included were downtown concerts, sponsored by Hess' department stores, featuring five top corps (Blue Devils, Phantom, Cadets, Santa Clara, etc.) These were very popular events drawing 3,000 to 4,000 people. Other corps appearances were scheduled for shopping centers, nursing homes, City Hall, fireworks displays, etc. Drum majors were flown in months ahead to announce the upcoming shows to the media. "Win a drum corps" contests were conducted each year. Local contestants wrote in (50 words or less) why they'd like to have a performance at their home. One year, the winning entry was from a man as a gift to his girlfriend. She found out ahead, due to the details in blocking off her street, etc., and frantically called us to stop the event. You see, she had been "cheating on the side" with this guy and didn't want the word to get out! We convinced her we could keep the true identity of the winner (her lover) secret and she could tell her friends she submitted a postcard "just for the excitement of it all." The Anaheim Kingsmen did perform in front of her home. During my tenure, we presented two days of prelims and one Saturday night finals event. Several of the finals crowds numbered between 14,000 and 15,000 persons. For several summers during the 1980s, Allentown laid claim to the unique distinction of hosting every major drum and bugle corps in the world. DCI often presented the entire top 25 corps while Drum Corps Associates presented its World Senior Championships over Labor Day weekend. Housing the corps was always a challenge for housing director Bill Higgins. One year, 54 corps requested housing. All received a location, although some were less desirable than others. The Anaheim Kingsmen, unwilling to stay another night in center city, pleaded for another temporary home. Truly, we knew of nothing else on such short notice. An after-midnight call was placed to then-mayor Joseph S. Daddona. He instructed his chief of police to open the Allentown Police Academy for the corps. It's not really a gymnasium, so many members slept inside the boxing ring, while others bathed outside in Trout Creek! Mayor Daddona was a special guy and helpful in getting DCI off to a good start in Allentown. He made frequent advance appearances with drum majors from top corps, (including Jeff Fiedler, who fronted The Cavaliers long ago!), and even played his own bugle for Phantom Regiment's drum major Kevin Neismith as we temporarily renamed the street outside gate one, "Drum Corps Avenue." Always quick with his wit, Joe liked to say, "I got lots of requests ... but I played anyway!" Sadly, we lost Mayor Daddona in June to cancer. Some corps, however, will practice this summer at newly renamed Daddona Park just south of the stadium. Another year, 56 corps were registered and 53 of them requested a housing location. We were able to accommodate everyone. However, the Madison Scouts needed to arrive one night earlier than planned. We couldn't find them anything so they all slept outside the stadium on the grass. I hope Allentown's famous geese didn't wake them too early! In the early 1980s, the Bridgemen received some sort of penalty from DCI that required them to go on in prelims first (at 7:45 am), well before "the block." They were incensed. Being the "in-your-face," aggressive, city corps, their staff was difficult to handle that weekend. We had them housed in Bethlehem, Pa., at a boys' club surrounded by hundreds of homes. While sleeping Friday evening (at 4 a.m.), I received a telephone call from the Bethlehem Police Department. It seems the corps was outside having a full rehearsal! They would not stop. I actually could hear "Barnum and Bailey's Favorite" over the phone! Many area residents were calling to complain. The police wanted to know what they should do. I was in no mood to cover for them and said, "Give them a ticket, or whatever it is you call it in these circumstances!" The police did. J. Birney Crum Stadium (then known as Allentown School District Stadium) has always had a problem with groundhogs. About six of them have been living under the upper level throughout the years. The helicopter incident is probably our most remembered moment. In thinking over anecdotes from prior years, I suppose the moment that will most be remembered by fans was during the early morning of Saturday prelims in 1984. Heavy-duty rain fell on Friday, and the Allentown School District (owner of the stadium) did not want us to use the field on Saturday. They had that authority spelled out in the contract. Before 8 a.m. we had to convince them we could dry the field within a few hours. I was able to find a helicopter charter service that was willing to come immediately and blow dry the field. I actually got the owner/pilot out of bed. Within about 30 minutes he came flying over the mountain "to the rescue." There was great applause. In that short 30-minute span, we had to clear all spectators from the bleachers, and then keep them away from harm for about an hour. This was no easy task -- the crowd size was already about 5,000 by 8 a.m. Allentown has certainly endured over the years and occupies its current place with other venues that are state-of-the-art and much larger. Yet no other city comes close to little Allentown's heritage in hosting drum corps' "best of the best." Fanfare archives Michael Boo has been involved with drum and bugle corps since 1975, when he marched his first of three seasons with the Cavaliers.

He has a bachelor's degree in music education and a master's degree in music theory and composition.
   
He has written about the drum corps activity for over a quarter century for publications such as Drum Corps World, and presently is involved in a variety of projects for Drum Corps International, including souvenir program books, CD liner notes, DCI Update and Web articles, and other endeavors. Michael currently writes music for a variety of idioms, is a church handbell and vocal choir director, an assistant director of a community band, and a licensed Realtor in the state of Indiana. His other writing projects are for numerous publications, and he has published an honors-winning book on the history of figure skating. His hobbies include TaeKwonDo and hiking the Indiana Dunes. But more than anything, Michael is proud to love drum corps and to be a part of the activity in some small way, chronicling various facets of each season for the enjoyment of others.