While Whitcomb hasn’t judged at the DCI World Championships since 1983, her work in developing the visual judging criteria Drum Corps International uses yet today—and the countless judges she mentored—has helped mold the marching music activity over the past four and-a-half decades.
Whitcomb is known as one of the first female judges to adjudicate at contests in Drum Corps International's early years. She also helped found the Western Band Association and in 1977 helped co-found Winter Guard International (WGI). Inducted as part of the inaugural WGI Hall of Fame Class of 1992, she was instrumental in creating the WGI Judges Academy and fostered it over its first two decades, supporting and mentoring a number of individuals who have also gone on to judge with DCI.
Judge Joe Allison describes Whitcomb as being “larger than life,” reflecting that she “maintained the highest expectations in everyone, including herself. Her guidance in developing a fledgling but ambitious (marching music) community in its formative years was absolute: she was everywhere, interacting with everyone, and never seemed to withhold anything she had to give to anyone who had the wisdom to accept it.”
DCI Hall of Fame judge, Marie Czapinski, helped co-found WGI with Whitcomb in the 1970s. “Shirlee put her heart and soul into every evaluation in a way that guided the listener into the ‘how’ of producing a higher quality product and experience for the performers,” Czapinski said. “She spoke to the designers and performers in a genuine way that made them feel positive about their efforts and encouraged them to achieve even more. Her insight helped shape and propel many, many instructors to believe in themselves and pursue their dreams. She was one of the great General Effect adjudicators in DCI history.”
DCI judge Mike Rubino remembers that Whitcomb was “so filled with energy and passion for the (marching) arts.” Rubino, along with several others, were known to travel between DCI contests during the summer months in a mobile home owned by fellow judge Rodney Goodheart. Rubino recalls that during those excursions, Whitcomb imparted countless teaching moments that made them all better judges.
1992 DCI Hall of Fame inductee and fellow adjudicator George Oliviero met Whitcomb more than 40 years ago, and both were often part of the carpools mentioned above. Oliviero says that he’ll always cherish the discussions about life and judging that transpired during trips across the United States. “Her knowledge and wisdom went far beyond judging; many knew her as a teacher, counselor, and critic. All judges understand that we walk in her footsteps as teacher, counselor and critic.”
Oliviero continues, “Shirlee’s (commentary) in judging was famous for its depth of knowledge. It was clear that she was talking to YOU, the instructor, and to YOUR members. Every instructor waited eagerly to hear her (recorded tapes). She was a popular choice to talk to the members of the units after contests. She spoke to audiences comfortably, in a language that was understandable. She always challenged herself and persisted in her goals.
“She was brilliant. She was witty. She cared. There have been many moving, heartfelt tributes because she directly and indirectly touched thousands of lives. Thank you, Shirlee, for your wisdom, for your passion while helping anyone who asked, and for decades of wonderful friendship. I shall miss your presence but remember your indomitable spirit, my dear friend.”
A celebration of Whitcomb’s life is being coordinated by Winter Guard International around the WGI World Championships to be held in Dayton, Ohio, April 6-8 and April 20-23.
WGI Sport of the Arts: In memory of Shirlee Whitcomb