The Optimists Alumni Drum & Bugle Corps
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Toronto Optimists: 1969
1969 – IT WAS THE BEST OF TIMES, IT WAS THE WORST OF TIMES
Up to Our Cummerbunds in Rookies
I didn't join the corps until the late winter of 1969, which was just in time to join the colour guard for their successful trip to Ottawa for the National Circuit Guard Championships. The rookie crop of ’69 was pretty impressive and large. It included such luminaries as Peter Byrne, Ric Brown, Greg Oxenham, Réal Garneau, Gilles Paquin, Rick Roussel, Dana Burrage and Derek Branton (who ended up winning “Rookie of the Year”). I would estimate that something in the area of 40% of the membership was new and I think this made the ‘old guys’ a little nervous. The good news for them was that just about everyone got a rookie.
The photo on the right was taken at the 1969 Shriners' International Contest.
We traditionally held camp over the Victoria Day weekend and I can’t remember the name of the camp or where it was, but what I do remember is rain, red mud and the worst sunburn I’ve ever had.
It rained from the time we got there until Monday morning, with a brief respite on Saturday night, during which the old guys initiated us poor rookies. There was talk of a rookie revolt, but nothing ever came of it. We managed to make it through most of Jack Roberts’ drill by the time we broke camp, under unseasonably hot, sunny weather.
The brass arrangements were penned by Barry Bell and instructed by Joe Gianna, while the percussion was done by Ron Kaiser, with assistance from ‘Scotty’ MacDonald. Vern Johansson was the Drum Major and Steve Cooper was the Guard Captain. After wallowing around in the mud (did I mention it was red?) and arriving home, my mother washed my cloths, only to have my shirt and nice new white sneakers come out a rather sexy pink (or was it lavender rose?). Needless to say, they got tossed.
Caution, Objects in the Mirror May Be Closer Than You Think – or – There’s Going to be a Riot!!
I believe we started the year behind both De La Salle and Cadets La Salle, but gathered momentum as the year went on and soon we had passed Cadets La Salle and had Del squarely in our sights.
We did an exceptionally long weekend in the mid-west that year with a contest in Michigan City, Indiana, followed by another in Woodstock, Illinois the next day. What I remember about Michigan City was seeing the Cavaliers for the first time and what I remember about Woodstock was Don Daber chanting “There’s going to be a riot…. There’s going to be a riot!!!”
After the contest was over, we were changing in a school auditorium, along with some of the other corps. Nisei Ambassadors (I think – or- it was Norwood Park Imperials) were on the stage playing through their show. Being a green-as-grass rookie, I saw nothing unusual about this. However, this was apparently being done so that they wouldn’t jump us.
Here, to the best of my recollection, is what happened: the day before in Michigan City, they had beaten us by a small margin and that day, in Woodstock, we had beaten them by a not-so-small margin. For whatever reason, they blamed us and wanted to duke it out. If it had been section on section, I don’t know how we would have made out against their guard – those girls looked pretty tough!
No Way We Let Boy Scouts Beat Us!
We traveled down the long road to Marion, Ohio for the U.S. Open. Man, I didn’t know there were so many drum corps! Prelims were held over the better part of two days and after their conclusion, we found ourselves in third place, behind only the Kilties and the Madison Scouts. Granted, most of the ‘Big’ corps weren’t there, but we still felt pretty good.
Some of us wondered, though, who were these “Madison Scouts” anyway and there was no way we were getting beaten by “Boy Scouts”! We didn’t, but we did still end up in third, 10 points behind Kilties and a couple of tenths behind the Argonne Rebels and their fabulous, Sandra Opie instructed horn line.
It Almost Was a Riot!!
Titusville, Pennsylvania saw us close the gab with Del to 3/10ths! The contest coordinators had made the mistake of billeting us and Del in the same school, with Del in the gym and us in the boys’ dressing room. Unless you were a part of it, you can’t imagine the tension that existed between these two great corps. In 1968 Del felt they had their first championship within their grasp, only to have it snatched away by a more than game Optimists Corps. Del was determined to keep that from happening again. As for us, we didn’t want to be the ones to break the winning streak – it was unimaginable.
After the contest, Del had arrived at the school before us and they were in the gym chanting “We’re number one, we’re number one”. Rumour has it that an "innocent" comment was made by someone in the Optimists. Suddenly everyone in both corps poured out of the front door of the school, eyeballing one another, with blood on their minds and malice in their hearts. All this powder keg needed was a spark, but cooler heads prevailed – I think they belonged to Don Daber and Brother X. Thankfully, everyone went back to their respective corners, unbloodied.
Disappointment in the Hub of Democracy
By the time Nationals rolled around in Ottawa, we were banging on all cylinders. We had, in true Optimists’ tradition, worked our tails off and had closed to within .15 of Del the week prior to Nationals.
We were to do a couple of run-throughs in the afternoon prior to Finals, on a field across the road from the hotel, but part way through the second run (I believe), Jack threw up his hands in disgust and declared us not fit to participate in a dog show, let alone a contest of this magnitude. He told us to get off the field and think about what we were going to do that night.
When we walked off of the Landsdowne Park turf, I believe that, to a man, we felt we had left it all on the field, only to hear “The first place score is 80.85 and the second place score is 80.80 – in second place…..” You know the rest.
It Wasn’t All Bad
What I took out of that year was a sense of purpose, a new work ethic, a sense of belonging and fast friendships which have endured to this day. Do I wish we had won? You bet, but I wouldn’t trade the values, friendships and memories I garnered for anything. I gained more than I lost. Maybe it was the best of times. (memories submitted by Brian Hogan)