Better Than the best EVer
Photos and Story by Carl Fonticella
In 1923, Ohio University student Homer T. Baird and over 40 other students gathered in the auditorium of the now demolished Ewing Hall on College Green, where they decided the school needed its own marching band. The rest, as they say, is history.
A History of Excellence
At Ohio University, it's no secret that the marching band reigns supreme. Take a listen into any home football or basketball game, and the band receives a bigger cheer than the teams playing will hear. Over the course of its 93-year history, The Marching 110 has wowed and captivated audiences all around the world while under the direction of eleven directors. Since their humble beginnings in the Ewing Hall auditorium, the band has blossomed into today's group of 230 members strong.
From 1923 to 1967, the band went through some changes along with the university. The first set of uniforms are completely different than those seen today, and the band’s third director (Curtis Janssen) created the university’s alma mater. Throughout all those changes however, none were as significant as when Gene Thrailkill (Director 1967-1970) came to Athens from Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1966 and changed the band forever.
The changes Thrailkill implemented have made the band what it is today, but his moves were not without controversy. When men were off fighting in the wars, it was an all-female band, becoming co-ed once the wars ended. Thrailkill however, decided to cut all female members from the band in 1967, and the name changed to the “100 Marching Men of Ohio.”
In 1968, the name of the band changed to the “110 Marching Men of Ohio,” but when women were readmitted into the band in 1975 under director Ronald P. Socciarelli, the “110” part stuck around, thus creating the name of the “Marching 110” that is known today. Thrailkill also implemented the “Diamond Ohio” marching formation, a design that is now put on OU memorabilia as the logo for the 110, and introduced the high-energy stepping marching style that is still seen in every performance.
Because the legacy of the marching band stretches back decades, the magic and the importance of the 110 isn’t lost on current members.
“Having that long tradition raises the standard from day one, so the bar is set a lot higher and you realize that you’re part of something really big and crazy…but it also makes you work a lot harder and always drive it,” says freshman computer engineering major Zak Inak.
The Dancing Band
To finish their halftime set on October 1, 2011, the 110 performed LMFAO’s smash hit “Party Rock Anthem.” Their performance was recorded and posted on YouTube and within days, the video had amassed over 1 million views.
The 110 had gone viral.
Since that performance, the 110 has gone viral on YouTube twice more, thanks to 2012’s performance of Psy’s “Gangnam Style” and 2013’s performance of Ylvis’ “The Fox.” These three videos alone have garnered over 20 million YouTube views.
The reason the 110 went viral wasn’t because they stayed ahead of pop culture and performed the songs just as they were hitting the mainstream (those three songs had dominated airwaves long before they were performed by the 110), but rather it was the dance moves that shot the band to Internet fame.
Each year, seniors are chosen to be the dance commanders for that fall. In fall 2016, Heidi Kranz, Hillary Carder and Kyle Arnott are responsible with coming up with dance routines that will wow the crowd.
“We spend multiple hours working on the different dances, we get the chance to work with the directors, get some input from the students, so taking all that into consideration it’s at least 4 hours for each dance,” says Kranz. “Usually we want to have part of the dance ready by Tuesday or Wednesday the week before, or even two weeks before. That way, we’ve had a couple of chances and more time to teach the dances, but we (the dance commanders) try to meet on Sunday and have the dance ready by Tuesday.”
Throughout the week, Carder, Kranz and Arnott allot around 35 minutes to teach the dances at each practice. All three have said that while teaching the dances can be frustrating and it’s hard to get the band to do the dance moves like they were drawn up, the end product is always worth it.
“The first two times we performed the dances that we wrote this year, I actually cried,” says Carder. “You can’t not smile, and there was something I could put my name to and say ‘I contributed to that’ and that’s something two of my other friends and I did together. The feeling is almost indescribable, just knowing that you did that and they’re standing for something you taught the band. It’s pretty much indescribable.”
On a Saturday in Athens, fans will see the pregame drive on, the dance moves, and the halftime show, but what they don't see is the work the 110 puts in to make sure everything is in tip-top shape .
Throughout the week, the band is meticulously going over their music and their dance moves, and Director Dr. Richard Suk and Assistant Director Dr. Josh Boyer make sure everything is in order for game day. After practice on Fridays, Dr. Suk stresses to the band that preparation is not only physical, but mental as well.
Preparation on Saturday morning starts before the sun rises over the hills, as members iron out the last small creases in their uniform, clean their shoes, polish their instruments and report to Walter Hall (next door to Peden Stadium) for uniform inspection.
Before heading to Peden, the 110 warms-up in front of a crowd outside of the student union after the drumline performs their cadences inside. Then, the entire band marches over to Peden to start getting ready for their pre-game show.
Despite going over the music and the dance moves constantly, getting through the first few minutes of a show can be rattling.
“I was so nervous, especially for pregame; it was a bigger audience than I had ever played for. I remember being really tense for drive-on, and was out of breath even though we only went a few feet,” says Inak. “All these unpleasant feelings and stress pile up, but then it’s all worth it once you start getting on the field. Once you start playing your nerves go away and you just enjoy the show.”
Other members noted how important the support from the crowd (and especially the student section) meant to them during their first show. It’s a common sight for the student section to empty out after the 110 finishes their halftime show, but while there, they give the band their entire support.
“I specifically remember kneeling for ‘Sound of Silence’ and (the band) getting really loud, and that was the point in the show where the student section really took off,” says freshman wildlife conservation & biology major Justin Seebauer. “I’m used to the student section (in high school) not giving a crap about us and leaving during our halftime show. It’s very validating.”
The 110 also travels to support the Ohio football team during road games, and this fall performed in front of one the largest crowds in their history. In September, when the band traveled down to Knoxville, Tennesee and played in front of over 102,000 people, the band got a better reception than was predicted.
“It was awesome because they gave us a standing ovation, and I heard from (a Tennessee fan) that they’ve never seen them (the fans) give a standing ovation to a college band except for ours, and that was really cool,” says freshman international business major Tim Kieltyka. “When we did the splits and into the grand pause I started tearing up because everyone was cheering, and it was so loud and it gave me goose bumps. It was amazing.”
When training camp starts in August, a group of 200+ musicians, four directors, and one field commander embark on a journey that will last until springtime. While the initial journey lasts around nine months, the lessons learned and the relationships made within that time span last a lifetime.
The band that reports to camp is rusty. Some may have slacked off during the summer and are a bit out of shape; others may be picking their instrument back up again for the first time in awhile. However, by the end of camp, the band is one cohesive unit. One entity, one family.
The band doesn’t just become a family for the one season through bonding activities and through the experiences and hardships they go together, the members become lifelong friends and the people they keep in contact with the most after graduation.
“It’s a lifetime family, in school, out of school, everywhere you go, we’re here. There are so many memories, and a lot of that is from Mr. Socciarelli (Director from 1973-1989), [it was] awesome performing with him,” says 1991 graduate Marty Wallace. “It’s amazing where the band’s gone since then, and it’s great to be a part of all that. Most of the people I’m still in communication with from when I was here at school were in the 110. I trust them to have your back anytime, anywhere.”
The Marching 110 has the “big/little” system in place (like Greek Life), and the family tree that is created forms a key part of the integration process into the band.
Friendships are formed across squads and across sections, and members tease each other in a loving familial way. To outsiders, the closeness of the band may seem a bit off-putting because of the size of the band, but after years of traveling together, going through band camp together, and growing together, fellow band mates become family.
“This band has taken me to places I never thought it could, both geographically and as a person. It’s given me the opportunity to learn and lead alongside so many wonderful people over these past four years,” says Arnott. “I’ve found friends, family, and love because of this band; I don’t know what desolate state my life would be in if I never chose to study at Ohio and pour countless hours into this crazy organization.”
The family aspect of this band is the most evident during Homecoming. While alumni come back for almost every home game and will travel to away games and shows away from Athens, Homecoming is the time of year where the magic of the 110 is truly on display.
“Every time that you come back and meet up with old band members, whether you marched with them or they were before or after you, it’s just one big family,” says 1996 graduate Leah Don Robertson. “Everybody thinks of it that way all of the time, so when you come back each year for homecoming or if I run into some people I marched with or some people from the band, we know each others name, and that just makes you feel closer to the people because you share that 110 experience with them It’s an experience like no other.”
A Lasting impression
At the 110’s Varsity Show in Memorial Auditorium in the fall, many local high school bands were in attendance, including Athens, Alexander, Nelsonville-York, Trimble and others. For some of the high schools bands, they were there to cheer on graduates who are currently in the 110, while others were catching their first glimpse of the 110.
Many of the current 110 members distinctly remember the first time that they saw the band, be it from a YouTube video showing their viral hits, or from the Varsity Show. For 2016 Field Commander John Rodesh, his first time ever seeing the 110 was as a member of the Toronto (Ohio) High School Marching Band, sitting in Memorial Auditorium at the Varsity Show.
Like with most university bands, the Marching 110 has an Alumni band, and with it, an alumni network thousands of members strong. In fact, the Marching 110 Alumni is the largest alumni entity of Ohio University.
Because the network stretches so far, the 110 is known throughout the country, and the influence has even helped high school students make the decision to come to Ohio.
“My high school band director is a 110 alum, so I’ve known about the 110 since my freshman year of high school [at Lakewood High School, just west of Cleveland],” says freshman English and creative writing major Tess Cazdin. “He always used to tell stories of how it was and how band was probably the most rewarding thing he ever did in his life. He made it seem like this really, really cool thing and I wasn’t sure how correct he would be, but he was pretty right.”
Thanks to its 93-year history, the marching band is now synonymous with Ohio University. The green jackets the members don have a vintage 1950's varsity feel to them, giving those who wear them a timeless look. To some students on campus, members of the 110 might seem like celebrities because of all the attention they get, while to others, they're just a bunch of band geeks. To members, they're fine with either description and will proudly own up to the fact they're band geeks.
In many sports, it takes time (sometimes years) to break into the starting lineup and become a part of the team. With the 110, it's almost immediate. When a player graduates from college or retires from a professional sport, they will no longer have the opportunity to don the uniform and represent their school or team. With the 110, you're a member for life.
Over the years, the 110 has performed around the world. Below is a list of all the parades and countries the 110 has played in.
- 1976: 1st Collegiate Marching Band to perform in New York's famed Carnegie Hall
- 1987: Marched in the US Constitution Bicentennial Parade, Philadelphia, PA
- 1993: Performed in Bill Clinton's Inauguration Parade and ball, Washington D.C.
- 1998: Opening gala of the restored Allen Theater in Cleveland, Ohio
- 2000: Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade , NYC
- 2005: Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, NYC
- 2006: 15 Members of the Marching 110 appeared as surprise guests on NBC's hit game-show Deal or No Deal.
- 2010: The Tournament of Roses Parade on New Years Day
- 2013: Europe Tour. Performed in Dublin Ireland, and Rome, in front of the Vatican
- 2016: France Tour. Performed a memorial concert of patriotic songs at the cemetery at Omaha Beach in Normandy, the Champs-de-Mars under the Eiffel Tower, and in Disneyland Paris.
- 2017: Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, NYC
*Author Note: I want to extend a thank you to the members of the Marching 110 who agreed to sit down for interviews with me, and to the organization as a whole for being open towards me throughout the duration of my time with them. There isn't enough time and space to properly thank you all, but just know it meant a lot.