Drum Corps International
Prelims free-for-all heightens suspense
Members of Legends will advance to their first-ever DCI World Championship Semifinals on Friday.Photo by: J. Skogh, DCI.org

Prelims free-for-all heightens suspense

by Tim Webber

Carolina Crown, the Cadets and the Bluecoats all leapfrogged the Blue Devils, and five Open Class groups advanced to the World Championship Semifinals, as 39 corps gathered in Indianapolis for the DCI World Championship Prelims.

The Blue Devils were struck with a half-point penalty after a warm-up infraction. The penalty was enough to knock them down from second place to fourth.

As for first, however, Carolina Crown needed no assistance. Their score of 96.475 was enough to put them at the top regardless of penalties.

“Over the past two months it’s been incredible to watch, seeing them work so hard everyday and seeing them push themselves to new limits,” said Crown drum major Ross Werner. “Even this morning we were out there rehearsing for six hours in the cold rain. It was miserable but we made it work.”

There is no denying that the South Carolina corps “made it work.” The corps implemented tweaks to its closer that may have helped to propel it to the top. A sizable 0.7-point lead in general effect led Crown’s charge to the top.

The Blue Devils had won seven of the last eight World Championship preliminary competitions heading into the night. They had never finished lower than second at any Championship event in the last 10 years.

Thursday, they did not finish in second, or even third. Those spots belonged, by fractions of points, to the Cadets (2nd, 95.475) and the Bluecoats (3rd, 95.425).


The Bluecoats have been putting pressure on the Cadets in recent events, tying them three days ago in Massillon, Ohio. The Cadets had a half-tenth lead at Lucas Oil Stadium on Thursday, but Bluecoats drum major Willie Veenstra thinks his corps has the potential to put on an even better performance.

“In drum corps, the name of the game is having an emotional show while having a precise show,” Veenstra said. “I felt tonight that we had a really emotional show, but there were just one or two hairs that were out of place that are normally dialed in that I still feel like we can bring the emotion to while still being precise."

In fourth, the Blue Devils (95.350) would have had a relatively comfortable lead on the Cadets and Bluecoats had they not been penalized, and even took first in overall visual. The corps is by no means out of the competition, and will no doubt be looking to rectify its lowest finish at a World Championship event since 2005.

If the placement of the top four corps was confusing, the race to earn a position among the top-25 advancing to Friday’s Semifinals competition earlier in the day was pure chaos. The margin between those who made it and those who didn’t make the cut was razor-thin.

Drum major Noah Koch, whose Legends were right on the brink, expressed how significant the accomplishment would be for the relatively young corps.

“If we made Semifinals, that would be incredible. It would be a really special way to end our 10th anniversary season,” Koch said immediately after his corps' performance.  “Just knowing that this might be our last run of the season, it was an amazing experience. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I hope the audience did too.”

Koch would get his wish.

Squeaking through to Friday by a margin of just 0.075 points, Legends (25th, 70.750) qualified for the Semifinals for the first time in its history.

The other Open Class corps that earned the right to advance too, were Spartans (23rd, 71.775), Genesis (22nd, 73.450), Blue Devils B (19th, 77.050) and this year’s Open Class Champion, the Vanguard Cadets (16th, 78.425).

Between the Blue Devils’ fall and the Legends’ success, plenty more action rattled the scoreboard throughout the day. Multiple corps would switch places—and one more shift would also be due to a penalty.

But one corps that did not change position was Santa Clara Vanguard (93.300), who remained firmly entrenched in fifth place.

Santa Clara Vanguard

“The true test is when you come off the field and talk to the players because they hear what’s going on inside,” said Vanguard percussion head Paul Rennick. “They came off and they were all happy. They were all thinking they nailed it.”

Rennick’s section has good intuition: The corps placed first in the percussion caption out of all 39 performing corps.

Continuing down the standings, the Blue Knights (90.550) took sixth, and continue to be on pace for their best finish ever.

Phantom Regiment (7th, 89.525) held onto its newfound lead over the Cavaliers (9th, 88.075), but drum major David Warren wants his corps to keep pushing and grow closer together.

“When you live with people for three months straight, you definitely get to know them at a level that you don’t get to know anyone else,” Warren said. “I think we’ve really, truly grasped the fact that this is truly a special experience. You can’t do anything like this in the world anywhere else. That has made us grow so much closer together, which has made the show just fantastic.”

In eighth, the Madison Scouts (88.150) also leapfrogged the Cavaliers, by a margin of just 0.075. If the Scouts can maintain their lead over the Rosemont corps, it will be the first time since the Scouts’ 1988 championship-winning season that the corps has topped the Cavaliers at the World Championship.

The Boston Crusaders (10th, 86.200) gained the upper hand in their season-long battle with the Blue Stars (11th, 85.450) and Crossmen (12th, 84.400).

In Boston’s 75th anniversary season, the final weekend of performances brings added emotion.

“It’s pretty indescribable getting to spend my age-out season with the Boston Crusaders in their 75th anniversary, and getting to return to Lucas Oil Stadium where I’ve performed so many times,” said Boston Crusaders drum major Chase Tucker. “It’s like coming home again. And getting to celebrate with 150 of my family and alumni, there’s nothing else that I can ask for.”

The Troopers (13th, 83.575) surged ahead of the Colts (14th, 82.750) for the first time since July 20. A 13th-place finish would net the corps its second-highest finish in 28 years. But with 12th place and a Finals spot less than a point away, the corps is surely looking to make its second Finals appearance since 1987.

Troopers drum major Gabe Gallegos has been with the corps since he was 14. Five years later, he’s proud of what the group has been able to put on the field, and has recognized the growth of both the corps and himself.

“Starting that young, it’s less seeing the corps grow and more seeing myself grow with the corps supporting me, and being able to call this place home,” Gallegos said. “Finally being able to see what we were able to put on the field… it gives me chills every year.”

Lurking just behind both corps are members of the Academy (15th, 81.100), who could match their best finish ever by leapfrogging the two corps on Friday.

Vanguard Cadets was tops among the Open Class corps, placing 16th. While everything in Indy is gravy after the corps won the Open Class Championship on Tuesday, the Santa Clara corps would no doubt like to match or exceed the 15th-place finish posted by rivals Blue Devils B last year.

Oregon Crusaders

One of the big upsets of the day came from the Oregon Crusaders (17th, 78.300), who topped Spirit of Atlanta (18th, 77.950) for just the second time ever. The Portland corps blazed through what was a 2.45-point deficit on Sunday to gain a near-half-point advantage on Spirit.

The Oregon Crusaders received the same penalty as the Blue Devils, half a point for a warm-up infraction. Once again, the penalty proved costly: it caused Oregon to be placed behind the Vanguard Cadets.

Blue Devils B, 19th, was the second highest placing Open Class corps on Thursday.

In 20th, the Mandarins (77.025) edged out California counterpart Pacific Crest (21st, 74.175).

While unable to overcome their West Coast rivals during the Prelims, Pacific Crest drum major Dakota Chavez was proud of his corps’ progress this year.

“We tried something new this year with a big prop that pretty much was the show,” Chavez said. “That thing has not been easy or forgiving, but it’s been a cool experience. The final product we had this year was beyond what we went in imagining at the start of the season.”

A large group of Open Class corps followed: Genesis in 22nd, Spartans in 23rd and Legends in 25th. Cascades (24th, 71.100) was the final World Class corps to make the Semifinals cut.

Compounded with a third-place finish at the Open Class Finals on Tuesday, qualifying for Semifinals made the Spartans’ 60th anniversary season that much sweeter.

“It’s been special in so many ways,” Spartans drum major C. Jay Sutton said. “Sharing this experience, showing everyone back in our community that all of the support that they give us is not unnoticed. We do this for them.”


Fellow Spartans drum major Cody Morgan is excited for the opportunity to perform one more time on Friday.

“For me, in regards to (making Semifinals), it’s always been about having one last experience with the show,” Morgan said. “One last chance to go out there and show our age-outs through our performance just how much they mean to us, and show the history and family that these past 60 years have meant to the Spartans organizations.”

Fourteen other corps fell below the cut to advance to Friday’s event. Just short of the milestone was 7th Regiment (26th, 70.675), who came within 0.075 points of repeating its highest-ever 25th-place Prelims finish from 2014.

Other corps just missing the cut were Music City (27th, 69.625) and two World Class corps: Jersey Surf (28th, 68.750) and Pioneer (29th, 66.175).

Sixth-year horn sergeant Shelby Niehaus is proud of the way Pioneer has persevered through the summer.

“It’s been challenge after challenge, but we’ve been overcoming it as a team,” Niehaus said. “I had never understood what drum corps was until I marched Pioneer. I’m really proud of everyone here.”

Three international corps competed at the World Championship Prelims after performing earlier in the week in Michigan City, Indiana. Jubal of the Netherlands (30th, 65.575), Gita Surosowan Banten of Indonesia (32nd, 61.275) and Chien Kuo High School of Taiwan (33rd, 60.875) embraced the opportunity to perform at Lucas Oil Stadium.

“The best moment was the American people (giving) standing applause for our performance,” said Widia, a baritone player with Gita Surosowan. “It was very exciting for me and it’s amazing today. It’s like a dream come true.”

River City Rhythm (31st, 62.450) avenged its Open Class Finals loss to Gold (34th, 60.525) by roaring ahead by a margin of nearly two points. The strong finish to its debut season will propel the Minnesota corps into its sophomore campaign.

“I think we’ve accomplished goal number one, and that was to put a corps on the field,” River City Rhythm director Todd Dufault said in an interview Monday. “I think the next step would be to double the size of the corps. We had 60 this year. We’d like to come out with 120 next year. Because of the experience the kids had and what they’ve done this first year, I really think that could happen.”

Colt Cadets (35th, 57.150), Raiders (36th, 56.675), Les Stentors (37th, 52.975), the Racine Scouts (38th, 49.450) and the Blue Saints (39th, 46.775) composed the first block in the morning, getting the DCI World Championships off to a roaring start after the announcement that the event will stay in Indianapolis until at least 2028.

But for now, the attention of Indianapolis and the drum corps community is focused solely on the 2015 World Championships, continuing into the weekend at Lucas Oil Stadium.

The 25 advancing corps from Thursday will participate in the World Championship Semifinals on Friday. Gates open at 12:30 p.m. and the first corps, Legends, will step off at 2 p.m.

Can't make it to the event in Indianapolis? Watch the DCI Semifinals on DCI Live!

Contributing: Christina Mavroudis, Casey Smith, Ross Beckman, Lee-Ann Hall