From an upcoming article in Rockford College's DECUS news magazine: By Pat Seidling
Phantom Regiment director
Of the many facets of Rockford College's new mission, the goal of making the campus a vital part of the quality of life in the Rock River Valley is quickly showing results. New signage welcomes visitors and tourists, more community arts groups are booking events on campus and, come late May, 135 world-class student performers will be "artists in residence" at Rockford College while preparing for a coast-to-coast national tour. The Phantom Regiment Drum and Bugle Corps, dubbed "Rockford's Roving Ambassadors," is bringing its act to Rockford College for a 14-day stint in preparation for a 15,000-mile tour. The travels will take this small army of five buses, two semi-trucks (including a full mobile kitchen) and two vans to nearly 40 cities to perform in competitions, concerts and parades, all culminating with a nationally televised Drum Corps International World Championships appearance. A partnership between Rockford College and the Phantom Regiment makes good sense, as both parties are considered important and well-respected members of the Rockford area. Rockford College has served both students and community for more than 150 years, and the Phantom Regiment, though an infant by comparison, is now going on 50 years and has become one of the longest-standing arts and youth organizations in the area. Both Rockford College and Phantom Regiment are experiencing a renaissance of sorts, specifically in regards to vision and community visibility. Rockford College has installed a new president with an ambitious and well-received mission statement, and the Phantom Regiment is experiencing its highest popularity in many years. About the Regiment What exactly is the Phantom Regiment, and how will they be partnering with Rockford College? The Phantom Regiment is a drum and bugle corps, which, in simplest terms, could be called a semi-professional summer marching band. A self-supporting, not-for-profit organization, "Regiment," (as fans call it), has a primary purpose of creating a quality place for high-achieving young adults to perform music and dance while experiencing the special life lessons that working in a large team can bring. Regiment is comprised of youth between the ages of 16 and 22, chosen from an annual audition process wherein more than 400 young adults vie for 135 spots. The winter season includes once-per-month weekend rehearsal camps and, come Memorial Day weekend, the chosen group moves to Rockford for a 3-week, "spring training" camp before departing on a 60-day competition tour. To be a part of Phantom Regiment is to devote entirely to team goals while striving for personal standards of the highest level. Nothing less than perfection is accepted in this art form called drum and bugle corps. Rehearsals are intense -- often 10 or more hours per day. Living conditions are spartan -- usually gym floors and a seat on a bus with 45 other performers. The dorm rooms at Rockford College will be this group's last time in real beds until they return home eight weeks later! Believe it or not, the young talent that makes up the Phantom Regiment actually pays a tuition fee for the honor of being a member. What kind of kids would subject themselves to being in an environment that never settles for "good enough," where the team is more important than the person, and where the final product is never final, even to the last day? Precisely the kind of young person Rockford College is about! "The young person who would gladly sleep on a gym floor to achieve a team goal is exactly the kind of young person we want to attract," states Bob Brown, vice president for advancement at Rockford College. "Commitment to service and fellowship is what today's best youth crave. Rockford College promotes that, and so does Phantom Regiment." Drum and bugle corps are governed by Drum Corps International, a not-for-profit organization based in Addison, Ill. Drum Corps International sets standards and rules, books the competitions and markets the activity. Each drum corps is an independent organization that collectively participates under the umbrella of Drum Corps International. There are about 90 active drum corps in the United States and many more worldwide, with a strong presence in England, Holland and Japan. Drum Corps International has been holding a world championship event each August since 1972. The ultimate goal is to be a part of the final "Top 12" show -- much like making NCAA basketball's Final Four. In the 35 years since the championship began, the Phantom Regiment has been a finalist 29 consecutive times -- only one other group has a better record! Phantom Regiment won the coveted title in 1996, after four previous second-place finishes. The top drum and bugle corps are televised on a national PBS broadcast and appear on DVDs and CDs that are sold worldwide. Rockford's Phantom Regiment has been one of these top groups for more than 25 years. Regiment members will benefit from partnership It's heady stuff if you're a 17-year-old high school kid with a passion for marching band. And that's exactly the type of young person who will move onto Rockford College's tree-lined campus this spring to be a part of the Phantom Regiment. "Our members are outstanding students who aspire to be educators, engineers, architects and other leaders of the future," states Tim Farrell, president of the Phantom Regiment board of directors. "Not all our members are from privileged homes, but all come to us with a drive and determination that is absolutely inspiring." Rockford College is able to provide the members of Phantom Regiment a special environment in which to learn the routines, build the bonds and set the goals for a successful season. By offering dorm space and access to athletic facilities at a nominal fee, the Regiment will be able to focus on what it needs to get done: creating a high quality performance and giving its members an experience of a lifetime. "In the past we've stayed at high schools, armories and have even had to place members in local boosters' homes," explains John Baumgartner, board member and former director. "To have the whole group on such a beautiful campus is going to be a special way to start the season off on the right foot." Rockford College extends its mission through its hospitality, and Phantom Regiment brings excitement and honor to the college. Both venerable Rockford institutions benefit -- a perfect fit any way you look at it. Rockford-Regiment history Phantom Regiment is no stranger to Rockford College. In fact, several years ago the Regiment rented use of the dorms to house out-of-town members who moved to the area early. Its now disbanded training group, the Phantom Regiment Cadets, periodically held rehearsals on campus, as did the flagship Phantom Regiment. For several seasons the Regiment provided use of one of its motor coach buses to the Rockford College athletic department. Rockford College has even had a member of Phantom Regiment enrolled full time. Joe Hickey came from Michigan to be a member of Phantom Regiment. While doing so, he enrolled at Rockford College and graduated with a B.A. in Political Science in 1985. Hickey is now a lawyer in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., and is a partner with the law firm of Dykema-Gossett while serving on the Phantom Regiment's board of directors as vice president and legal council. "I saw the Phantom Regiment for the first time on television in 1978 while they were competing in the international championships," recalls Hickey. "I was amazed by the musicality displayed and immediately fell in love with the corps -- all classical selections and disciplined image. I had to be a part of it. My parents wanted me to attend a small private liberal arts school and Rockford College was a perfect fit. I earned a great education and made lifelong friends. In many ways I think I had the perfect college experience while being able to achieve the dream of participating in the Phantom Regiment." Hickey is frequently back in Rockford visiting friends from his Rockford College days as well as attending to Regiment business. He views the proposed alliance of Rockford College and the Phantom Regiment to be a win-win situation for all involved. "Rockford College is an exemplary institution of higher learning where, because of smaller class size and a commitment to community values, you can really mature as a person both inside and outside of the classroom -- learning much about life and what it takes to succeed. The Phantom Regiment promotes the same ideals and, perhaps even more vigorously, instills the values of discipline, strength and hard work. I think it would be great if, down the road, the college could ascertain a method for assigning college credit for members of the corps," Hickey says. Looking forward What in fact does the future have in store for the partnership between Rockford College and Phantom Regiment? For this first year, both entities are looking forward to a fun and successful campus visit. The Phantom Regiment will include Rockford College promotional materials in mailings to the 1,000 young people that apply to audition each fall, and the possibility of cross-linking Web sites is in development as well. According to Phantom Regiment board member and communications chair Greg Newell, the Phantom Regiment Web site gets more than 1,500 visits per day during the winter months. "That number spikes to more than 2,500 visits per day during our summer competition season when fans worldwide check in to see how we are faring on tour, and again in the fall when kids are looking for information on how to audition," Newell says. Talks of having Phantom Regiment move its operations office to a campus location are in progress as well. Both parties certainly look forward to having more Phantom Regiment members become Rockford College students and vice-versa. "Since our talent demands are so high, we have to cast our nets nationwide for qualified members," says Tim Farrell. "Having members come to our community and become students at Rockford College would certainly be a benefit to all involved." The ultimate result? The true value of this partnership is having two venerable Rockford institutions -- both with mission statements that include responsibility to community -- help each other thrive. And just for fun, imagine this: perhaps someday soon there will be a Phantom Regiment-led Regents Marching Band at homecoming! With the combined vision, energy and determination demonstrated in the early stages of this partnership, certainly anything is possible.