Drum Corps International
The DCI.org interview: George Hopkins

The DCI.org interview: George Hopkins

by Drum Corps International


George Hopkins
Last week, YEA! executive director George Hopkins posted a press release on YEA.org under the headline, "Crossmen year-end evaluation in full swing." Although the press release did not directly imply a major sea change in YEA!'s relationship with the Crossmen, Internet discussion forums soon blazed with rumors and speculation about what Hopkins' press release would bring about. The questions we sent to Hopkins were based on the concerns we read in these discussion forums. DCI.org:For the uninitiated, give us a brief history of YEA!'s relationship with the Crossmen.

Hopkins:Briefly, after I personally assisted the project in 1996 (Chris Marino was the chairman of the board for the Crossmen), YEA! agreed to take over the assets and liabilities of the Crossmen in 1997. Overall, the deficit was about $200,000. At that point, the Cadets and Crossmen became programs of YEA! -- all under one non-profit umbrella -- Youth Education in the Arts. Since then we have upgraded the operation through the purchase of brass instruments, percussion instruments, a food truck, small vehicles, uniforms, guard equipment, etc. We have also put much more money into staff, drivers and management. In 1996 the budget for the Crossmen was $325,000. Today, the budget is about $800,000 and YES, the Crossmen do operate at a loss as a stand-alone program. DCI.org: What is the purpose of the year-end evaluation/discussion with Crossmen alumni/staffers? Are you looking to spin them off of YEA!? Hopkins The alumni of the Crossmen have become very active. They have their own ideas and some of the old guard may be a bit resentful that YEA! had to take over the corps. Indeed, being as YEA! is an outgrowth of the Cadets, some draw the conclusion that the Cadets are managing the Crossmen. This is not true, but I understand the conclusion. In meeting with the alumni (I do attend at least 50 percent of the Crossmen Alumni Association Meetings myself), we are working out plans and goals for 2004. We are making sure we are clear as to our responsibilities and our expectations of each other. Without question, the Crossmen alumni are a huge asset to the Crossmen and to YEA! The meeting is to embellish that relationship. As for staff meetings, this is nothing unusual. We review each year the activity of all programs. Some years are easier than others. This year, with the Cadets for example, the next steps seem a bit more clear to me. With the Crossmen, this year may look more like a crossroads.
What to do? Who needs to be involved? What role should I play personally? How do we balance the need for independence, the cooperative, and survival? Big Questions. As for spinning off ... the Crossmen are a program of YEA! YEA! owns the vehicles, the equipment, and all assets. YEA! is the signer on all endorsement deals. The idea that the Crossmen, or the Cadets, are independent of the parent YEA! is simply not an idea based in reality. Would YEA! spin off the Crossmen as a not-for-profit subsidiary, owned
by YEA!? Perhaps ... if this made sense from an economic and programmatic view. What does that mean? Well -- we would have to get into non-profit law, but basically, there would be more autonomy for the Crossmen in such an arrangement, but also far more financial responsibility. They would have their own board of directors, etc. But they would have to survive on their own. Would YEA! sell the Crossmen? No. Is there any discussion now about changing the place of the Crossmen in YEA!? No DCI.org: Do the Cadets endure a year-end "evaluation" similar to this? Hopkins: Oh yes -- I have meetings scheduled with the visual design people over Labor Day weekend, followed by a meeting with about five staff who have each been here about 20 years. From there, I will meet with the management team, we will review the members' evaluations, and we will begin work on 2004. Currently with a trip to Europe in the plan, as well as other activities, we are excited about a great, great, 70th anniversary season for the Cadets. One note -- being as I am the DIRECTOR of the CADETS as well as the EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR of YEA!, I do have a far more intimate knowledge of the Cadets. This makes evaluation easy. After all, I was there for 60 days. I slept in a bus seat. DCI.org:What can you say about the rumors that the Crossmen are merely a "feeder corps" for the Cadets?

HopkinsI am not sure if the word is rumor, I think it is more innuendo. YEA! is proud that we have two top-10 drum corps under one roof. No one else can say that and no one else has done it. Frankly, I think sometimes we are nuts to take it on. The effort can be ridiculous. Thanks to Christine Higgins, the director of Drum Corps Operations, the corps managers, and the corps administration for all they do to keep the two corps in operation at the highest level. As for a feeder corps -- I think in the six years of this arrangement, five members of the Crossmen have moved to the Cadets. There are more Crossmen in the Blue Devils over the time frame, than the Cadets. I would think this answers the question better than my verbiage. DCI.org:The statement, "Despite an investment of $1 million per year, the corps does appear, at least in the competitive world, to be unable to leap to the top of the competitive world. For certain, the corps had some great moments through the year, but, at the end of the day, there does seem to be a frustration that is apparent." What about other corps that fail to make the top five consistently? Is it fair to assess a corps that fails to make top 12 as a competitive flop as well? Hopkins: I use TOP 5 figuratively. For me, it refers to the upper echelon of corps. This is where we would like the Crossmen to be. This is where the Crossmen would like to be. AND YES -- we are having a tough time figuring out the formula. I have some ideas as do others. We want any program that YEA! presents to have the potential to be the best in the world. This is what drives the performance side of our equation. DCI.org: Do you feel that if Crossmen had a stronger support/creative staff, they would be consistently ranked higher? Hopkins:The Crossmen have a wonderful creative staff.
Do we need to look at the team -- of course, just like we do the Cadets, and just like any organization would. We are proud of what they have accomplished over the years.
Together, we are evaluating what we need to do to push through to the
next level. The sin of it is -- many believe we need to stop playing "Happy" music and move to a more esoteric-based program. Personally, I find this discussion depressing, but, alas, when one looks at the adjudication system and what it rewards, well ... perhaps this is the way to go. After all, if the Crossmen are going to rush the sideline, play a long and loud chord that brings the crowd to its feet, and the judges simply smirk at the methodology, well then I guess we all need to look at what is important and how we achieve the many goals we have for the corps. By the way, since you asked, the volunteer support team for the Crossmen is tremendous. I love these people. They go the extra mile day after day! Congrats to all -- and thanks! DCI.org: Finally, what would Bones say? Hopkins: I am not sure he has ever spoken? Maybe I need to follow his lead?