Drum Corps International
The Birth of a champion: Part two

The Birth of a champion: Part two

by Michael Boo

Paul K. Towne marched Santa Clara Vanguard just as the corps was beginning to make its dramatic move up through the ranks. The following is a remarkable walk through an important time of an important corps. We started the story last week with Part One, a story preceding the first competitions of 1970. Here, in Paul's own words, is the story of Santa Clara Vanguard's journey to the top. Part two This story is based on 35-year-old memories. Although I believe most of the facts are accurate, some may have been muddled due to time. Chapter 3 Our first show of 1970 was in Sacramento and was also the first stop on our way out of California for our tour of the Midwest. It was also the American Legion State Championships. I was nervous and excited. Not only was this our first show, but both our rivals from the south were going to be there, the Kingsmen and the Velvet Knights. At this time Kingsmen were truly the kings of California, having made VFW National finals the year before and pretty much dominating the state. As we prepared for the show we heard that Velvet Knights had already beaten the Kingsmen twice down south and were confident they were going to be the next state champion. In fact, there was a rumor circulating that they had already had a state champion patch made for their corps jackets! That night we marched a very good show. Gail (Royer, founding director of the Santa Clara Vanguard) seemed worried as we were lining up for retreat. He had us change our normal formation and put all the biggest members on one side. After we formed on the field his reason was obvious. The side he had put all our largest members turned out to be the same side VK was on. I could only conclude that Gail felt that the VK might react negatively to the scores. My fears were confirmed when Gail went up and down the ranks and told us to put our mouthpieces in our fists. I had heard about riots at drum corps shows, but I thought it was an East Coast phenomenon. Anyway, after the scores were announced, we were crowned the new state champions! As it turned out, despite Gail's fears, the members of VK took their loss with class and there was no incident. After the show we were elated as we boarded the buses and headed to our first show in the Midwest. I was excited because we were headed to Racine, Wis., home to two-time defending national champion Kilties! This was my first trip over the Sierras in a bus. Now mind you, these were not modern buses, but pre-World War II versions the corps had purchased from the Troopers. These buses' best days were long past. As we climbed the mountains, you could hear the engines scream and the drivers continually downshifting. More often than not, the drivers would miss the shift, the gears would crunch, and at times it seemed we would start to roll backwards as he tried to engage the engine. Of course, we were treated to the wonderful smell of diesel fumes and the clutch burning. As bad as the trip up the mountain was, the trip down was even worse. Now it seemed the buses were runaway trains. The hiss of constant braking and the smell of burnt brakes were added to our sensory smorgasbord. I had visions of us missing a turn and plunging over the embankment to our instant deaths. Needless to say, being the good Irish Catholic altar boy my mother raised, I spent this whole section of the trip praying for my salvation! Things settled down after we got over the mountains and headed across the flats of Nevada. Now I was able to relax and take a look out the window. Nevada certainly wasn't what I would call beautiful -- just flat, brown, and treeless. We finally made it to our first stop, Elko, Nev. Since there was some sunlight left, the first thing we did was practice! After practice we boarded the buses and were taken into town for dinner. This was my first experience with small town USA. It seemed that as soon as the sun went down all the restaurants closed. After walking around town we did manage to find a restaurant open in one of the hotels. Unfortunately, the hotel had no idea it was going to be descended on by more than 100 hungry, tired and somewhat rowdy kids. (OK, we weren't somewhat rowdy). As I look back I feel sorry for the waitress. She had to bust her rear to serve us and put up with our grief. I'm also certain she didn't see much in the way of tips. Anyway, we all got fed and made it back to the school in time for lights out. This scenario was played out over and over during the four years I marched with SCV, the only difference was the time, place and the name of the abused waitress. The next day we boarded the buses and headed back on the road. We stopped for lunch in Wendover. I mention Wendover because the town was right on the border of Nevada and Utah, split right down the middle. One side had slot machines and alcohol, the other side was prim and proper Utah. Wendover was also on the edge of the great salt flat and the gathering place for cars and drivers setting out to conquer the land speed record. At that time I was just developing my love for cars and I really enjoyed looking at the cars on the trailers and all the pictures on the walls of the restaurant. During my marching years I always looked forward to our stop in Wendover. Chapter 4 Finally we arrived in Racine, the heart of drum corps country. (East coasters may disagree.) The small town of Racine was home to two top corps, the Racine Scouts and the current, two-time national champion Kilties! Also a short driving distance away was the Madison Scouts, La Crosse Blue Stars, Chicago Cavaliers, Des Plaines Vanguard, and more. I was truly excited getting off the bus. Although we had been just crowned California state champions, this was the big time! This was the Kilties home show! I had listened to the Kilts over and over again in the band room at school. These guys were defending national champions the past two years! It wasn't just the Kilties that had my stomach in knots, but the Troopers were also at this show. Pete, Fred and Jack had all marched with the Troopers! I felt so insignificant as I walked around in my red and green Christmas tree uniform. The Kilties and Troopers seemed so much older and bigger than us. Their uniforms were definitely a lot cooler than ours! I was nervous wreck as we lined up on the field to get ready to perform! The stands were jammed packed with people used to seeing the best drum corps on the planet! Suddenly, our drum major Mike Munoz yelled the command, "Mark time mark," and we were off. Then the most amazing thing happened. About six measures into "Fanfare and Allegro," the people in the stands started to stand and cheer. Not that I could hear them, but I could see them going crazy. They didn't sit down until we stopped to play our concert. They didn't sit for long. As we progressed through our "Fiddler" melody, they started to go wild once again. By the time Wayne Downey started his solo in the "Matchmaker" section, they were all on their feet again. They stayed on their feet for the rest of the show. I'll never forget the announcer yelling, "Wonderful show. Wonderful show. The Santa Clara Vanguard!" I have never been so excited! We had gotten a standing ovation from start to finish in my first major show in the Midwest! I really don't have much recollection of retreat except that as they were announcing the scores, I kept waiting to hear our name. After they announced the fourth-place corps and it wasn't us, I was on cloud nine. To finish third in such an elite contest was truly an honor. Then it happened: "In third place, the Racine Kilties!" Oh my lord, we had just defeated last year's national champions! In less than a year we had gone from just missing finals (placing 13th) to defeating the champs. When we were announced in second place, it didn't really register. We had beaten the Kilties, at their home show! As we circled up around Gail, after leaving the field, it was apparent how happy and surprised he was with the outcome. It wasn't until he told us did I realize that if not for a penalty for our show being under time, we would have won! It seems that as the crowd got more and more excited, so did the corps and our tempo increased proportionately. By the time we finished the show, according to Gail, we were marching almost double time! Winning the state championships in my first show and defeating the defending National Champs in my second. What a glorious way to start my drum corps life! As I look back at the history of SCV, it was this show in Racine, where we became the Vanguard! The next night is one that I'd rather forget. Rather than go into the details (most I don't remember anyway), suffice it to say we were at another corps home show. Although this corps was good in their own right, they were not the same caliber as the Troopers, Kilties or many of the corps we had competed against the night before. The judging panel was also local. We finished second that night to the hometown corps. All I remember is that Gail and the staff were livid! The next show was in Michigan City, Ind., and we were going to see the Cavaliers for the first time. The Cavaliers were another of the activity's elite. When we would listen to drum corps records in the band room at school, we would listen to the Kilties, Troopers, Cavaliers, Des Plaines Vanguard or Boston Crusaders, in no particular order. My biggest memory of the show was the field itself. It was a converted baseball field, so the orientation was strange. I also remember Gail telling the corps before we went on that the Cavaliers were so confident that they only sent their junior staff to the show! That was a mistake, because that night we defeated the Cavaliers for the first time, and as far as I know, SCV didn't lose to them again for over a decade. Oh, by the way, the corps that defeated us the night before finished 14 points behind us! Our next show was going to be the biggest one of the tour. The North American Open in Milwaukee was going to feature every major corps from the Midwest as well as a few from the East. As we prepared for the show it was evident that the corps intensity level had raised another notch, if that was possible. Collectively we knew that what we had accomplished was special. We also knew that we still had to move forward. When we started the season, our goal was to become one of the elite twelve and now we had a chance to be the top corps in the country. To claim that prize we had to defeat the Troopers! Everything we did was centered on that goal. Even the staff seemed intent on accomplishing this feat. I had a feeling that Pete and Fred had a burning desire to defeat their former corps. In fact, Pete made a challenge to the corps. If we defeated the Troopers he would part with his most valuable possession -- his moustache! That night we marched a terrific show! The crowd was very responsive, although not quite as crazy as the one in Racine. When the scores were announced, we had done it. We had defeated the Troopers! At that moment we could lay claim to being the best corps in the country! That night we celebrated as if we had won nationals! Unfortunately, one of our members went out to call his girlfriend (who had marched with the corps) to give her the news and stayed out past lights out. When he arrived back at the gym he was told he was no longer a member of the corps. I was especially upset because the member in question was Steve, the contra player who gave me my nickname. We had one more show and then our tour of the Midwest would be over. Our last stop was to be in Madison. Although this show didn't feature the same lineup as Milwaukee, we were going to face the Troopers for the last time. Although Steve had been removed from the corps and wasn't allowed to march that night, he gave a truly inspirational speech and everybody was ready! Unfortunately, the Troopers were more prepared and won the show. After the show, a dollar bill was passed around for the whole corps to sign. A member had won it the night before from Gene Monterastelli of the Troopers. That night Gene won it back. It was passed back and forth between the corps until 1973 when it took up permanent residence with SCV. During that time it had been put into a picture frame with a synopsis of the story behind it. Although Steve had been removed from the corps and wasn't allowed to march, that night he gave a truly inspirational speech and everybody was ready! Somehow, years later, it found its way into the trunk of my car. When I discovered it in the late 1970s, I took it to the corps hall where it hung proudly for many years. Chapter 5 When we boarded the buses and headed back to Santa Clara, we were tired but euphoric. Except for our staff and a few vets, most of us didn't really understand what we had accomplished. The little kids from California, in their red and green satin "Christmas tree" uniforms, had beaten the best corps in the country (sans a couple of East coast corps). We had rocked the drum corps establishment and it would never be the same! When we got back home we also got back to work. Although the corps never planned on a second tour and a trip to Miami for the VFW National Championships, the SCV booster club was scrambling trying to find a way to send us. We also desperately needed new horns. Our current horns were a mismatched set of Getzens and Smiths that had to be soldered and repaired before and after every show. My baritone was an old Getzen with a shot rotor valve. The booster club faced quite a dilemma: Purchase new horns, send us to Miami for a chance at the national championship, or do both and incur a debt the corps might never be able to recover from. In the end it was decided the corps would get new horns, the trip to Miami would not happen, and the corps would travel to Portland and compete in the American Legion National Championships. Of course, as a member, I wasn't aware of the discussions and the ramifications of their decision. I wanted to go to Miami and win the VFW Championship. When the decision was relayed to us, everybody in the corps was disappointed. Gail pointed out that we had never planned on going to Miami and we still had a job to do -- win the American Legion National Championships. So, while all the other corps were on tour competing, we stayed home and practiced. Of course, everyone got fired up when we received our brand new set of Olds bugles! Not being able to send us in the buses without incurring more debt, the corps traveled to Portland caravan style in our parents cars. The only event that stands out from that trip is when we stopped for lunch and Fred McMurray (of the hit TV show "My Three Sons") was seated with his family at a table across from us. Kurt, a good high school friend and a member of the drum line, blurted out something derogatory about Fred's daughter. Of course, at that moment the restaurant suddenly got quiet. We all cracked up, but I think my parents must have turned seven shades of red from the embarrassment! Our last show of the year was more like our first, competitive-wise. Our major competition was once again the Kingsmen and Velvet Knights. The field was a converted baseball diamond, much like Michigan City, only this time there was a large concrete wall in left field. Not only was it very confusing visually, but also the sound bounced right back at us. It didn't matter, as all of our hours of practice paid off and we were crowned American Legion National Champions. The Troopers won the VFW crown that year and could lay claim to being the best corps in 1970. There was, however, a new champion to contend with, the Santa Clara Vanguard! We had gone to the Midwest and defeated the drum corps elite. We faced the Troopers three times. We lost once on a penalty, won once outright, and lost once outright. What would have happened if we could have made it to Miami? No one knows! One thing for sure, from that point on when fans talked about the next possible champion, there was a new name to add to the activity's elite. "Ladies and gentleman, from Santa Clara, California, the Santa Clara Vanguard!" 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.

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