• Drum Roll Please: Elyria Man will lead OSU marching band

    • By Bruce Bishop, The Chronicle-Telegram
    • May 23, 2001



    When a drum major struts onto the field at The Ohio State University, it's a good bet he started high stepping in Lorain County.

    Since the mid-1990s, Elyria and Avon Lake high schools have pumped out four consecutive drum majors the student who hoists the specially made baton and leads Ohio State's Marching Band.

    "We're a drum major factory," said Douglas Benford, Elyria High band director. With football season looming, summer will get even hotter for Adam Prescott, the next OSU drum major, as he builds his strength and power for more explosive twirling skills.

    Prescott, from Elyria was named drum major after tryouts last month in Columbus. His assistant will be Eric Sommer, a sophomore from Avon Lake. Sommer's brother, Scott, also was an OSU drum major.

    Although drum majors are known for twirling batons, that's the last thing Benford considers when seeking a candidate. "They are independent thinkers," Benford said. "They are leaders, not followers. They can pass on a personal set of values. Twirling is secondary."

    OSU's marching band director, Jon Woods credits mentors from Lorain County, many with OSU ties, for immersing candidates in the university's marching style. While many college bands have become more contemporary, OSU has maintained the traditional regimented, precise technique and sound better. "It's a very physical marching style, with high step, high energy and quick, flashy movements.' Woods said.

    Marching bands derived from military field bands leading troops into battle. Like a general, the drum major leads today's band. In the 1930s, the OSU band reverted to military roots when it selected mostly brass instruments trumpets, cornets, horns, sousaphones, trombones and baritones that project sound better.

    No football game would be complete without the buckeye band traditions. The band's introduction 'Ladies and gentleman, the pride of the Buckeyes, The Ohio State University Marching Band!" brings a roar from nearly 100,000 in Ohio the Ohio Stadium, known as the Horseshoe. Entering from the north ramp, 24 percussion member split off into two lines, marching down the field, beating a cadence that builds as the rest of the black-suited band marches onto the field.

    Now, all eyes focus on the drum major. With a whistle from a sousaphone player, band members face south, and the drum major, decked out in white pants and a scarlet coat with tale – struts through the band and down the field to the 35-yard line. There, he touches his toes, snaps a salute and bends back ever so gracefully to graze his hats red plume against the field. The brass band follows with a crisp chorus of "Buckeye Battle Cry," as the drum major leads the band down the field, tosses his baton over the goal post and catches it.

    "Legend has it, if you catch it, the team is supposed to win. If you drop it, the team is supposed to lose." said Prescott, who will be an OSU junior this fall. If you drop it, the team is supposed to lose," said Prescott, who will be an OSU junior this fall. Often at halftime, the drum major leads the band to write "Ohio" in script across the football field. It's completed when the drum major plants the baton, marking the spot where the sousaphone player dots the " i".

    Elyria High School proved a perfect training ground because the camaraderie of its 200 band members is similar to the spirit in OSU's band of 225. That's where Benford nailed down the Buckeye routines as a high school drum major from 1974 to 1976. Wilson Murray, an OSU graduate, was band director before Benson, Murray's OSU peers had voted him the most inspirational band member, their highest honor. That inspiration proved critical to Benford, who never attended OSU but learned the traditions under Murray. When Benford became band director 18 years ago, the factory was ready to roll.

    OSU has had one female drum major and one as assistant drum major, but the job has remained an elite fraternity in Lorain County the last few years. Benford's friend Tim Williams has coached most of them since the mid-1990s.

    Williams attended OSU in 1984 and hoped to become a drum major but never did. When he returned to Elyria, he began inspiring drum major candidates with vision, energy, enthusiasm, leadership skills and hours of hard work. Williams acknowledges, "it's a subculture, one that has been locally nurtured, but one that could be coming to an end."

    Williams, who is program director for the Elyria YWCA's youth activities, is hanging up his baton. Unless someone takes over coaching drum major hopefuls, the Lorain County run could be another page of Buckeye history.

    This local feat has been no coincidence,, "There is no manual," Williams said. "You learn by routine."

    Outside Prescott's family home in Elyria, a worn patch of grass testifies to the hours of training necessary for drum majors vying to lead what is proclaimed to be "The Best Damn Band in The Land."

    But leading the band can be dangerous. At last year's band camp, Elyria High drum major Brian McCombs received a gash on his face from the baton. Like a soldier in battle, he was stitched up on the field. Once, Eric Somers fired a baton like a missile and it plunged back through the skin between his thumb and forefinger.

    In the end, those who aspire to lead the OSU barsd say it's worth it all. " In the drum major world, it's like being the shortstop of the Yankees," Prescott said.