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Keeping it Incomparable: celebrating 130 years of excellence

Photo by West Chester University.

On Sept. 21, the West Chester University Incomparable Golden Rams Marching Band was presented the Sudler Trophy. The bi-annual award recognizes a collegiate marching band’s tradition of excellence and innovation in the world of drill technique.

The Sudler Trophy has been described as “the Heisman Trophy of collegiate marching.” It was first bestowed in 1982 to the University of Michigan and has since gone on to recognize the likes of Texas A&M, Purdue University and the Penn State Blue Band. Though the award is handled by the John Philip Sousa Foundation, its name comes from Louis and Virginia Sudler, the parents of the grant. The John Philip Sousa Foundation outlines the meaning of the award.

“The purpose of the Sudler Trophy is to identify and recognize collegiate marching bands of particular excellence that have made outstanding contributions to the American way of life,” says the foundation.

The Incomparable Golden Rams Marching Band comes together at the beginning of the season for a week of 12-hour days, followed by a pre-season showcase. The group develops a portfolio of music and marching technique during this time, more specifically focusing their half-time show for the season.

130 years of hard-working, music-loving, bar-raising Rams are being celebrated with the reception of the Sudler Trophy.

This year, in light of being named the Sudler Trophy recipients, the show is called “A Young Person’s Guide.” The music is a compilation of classical and well-known songs, all with a modern twist. The music represents how the group has evolved over the years but has still maintained a tradition of guiding students toward their future, whatever that may be. Drill patterns mirror the repertoire by creating visual motifs.

To ensure the group stays together, the Golden Ram Band enlists four drum majors. Besides waving their arms in funny patterns, drum majors serve as another pair of eyes on the field, as well as the voice of instruction during practice. The 2019 drum majors are Andrew Gallagher, Ian Edge, Morgan Turner and Katie Beasley.

The Incomparable Golden Rams Marching Band garners that signature catchphrase, “incomparable,” due to the efforts of many people. A group of such size (over 300 students) requires hard work and diligence from all of its members. Tiers of leadership aid in training new members, as well as retraining the old. As Assistant Director of Athletic Bands Doctor Gregory Martin says, “excellence is in the details.”

“The band works VERY hard without being pushed by the directors or staff – there is an inherent work ethic that has been established over the years that is really coming to maturity now,” he says.

Professor Adam Gumble, Director of Athletic Bands, is also a believer that old habits die hard. “I think that the tradition of excellence that has been embraced here for over five decades, the leadership that has been provided here as well as the legacy of leadership that has been in place here, even though we are a Division Two school, people across the country have taken notice,” he says.

West Chester University proves its incomparability by not only being a winner, but also by being the first Division Two school to be honored by the Sudler Trophy.

“Receiving the Sudler Trophy is a huge deal in the life of any program. We’re doing everything to make sure that we’re putting the best product possible on the field while also honoring all the alumni that have made this possible for us,” says Gumble.

As mentioned by both directors, the work ethic and tradition of excellence in the group has been constructed during 130 years of legacy. Established at WCU as the “Normal Band” in 1889, the group began by performing in local parades and school activities. In the 1900s, the group started to become more broadly known as it travelled for events. Current day, the Incomparable Golden Rams Marching Band has performed at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the Phillies World Series appearances, Bands of America and multiple regional as well as national athletic band events.

Directors have a bird’s-eye-view of the group – Dr. Martin often presides over practice on a 30-foot-tall platform – but in order to fine-tune the whole operation, there are student coordinators on the field. This carefully selected group is present at every practice and performance to fix drill spots, answer questions, give instructions and much more.

“We alleviate some of the pressure the directors face when teaching new concepts. Between the six coordinators, we can easily teach smaller groups of members new information,” says student coordinator James Weber.

Between directors, graduate assistants, drum majors, student coordinators, section leaders and many others that stay behind the scenes, the Incomparable Golden Rams Marching Band is well looked after. However, many other Division Two schools have elaborate systems to execute the process; so what makes WCU “incomparable?”

“That moniker not only represents what we do and at the level we do it but who we are as people and as an institution. We urge all of the band members to work to be truly incomparable in everything they do in life – to set the standard of excellence in their personal lives and to be the best person they can be,” says Dr. Martin.

“Incomparable is a lifestyle. It is fighting the tendencies of average. It is doing everything you can to inspire those around you to be a positive force in people’s lives,” says Gumble.

“Our band is incomparable because of the members’ unwavering determination to keep raising the bar and reaching new heights never seen before,” says Weber.

130 years of hard-working, music-loving, bar-raising Rams are being celebrated with the reception of the Sudler Trophy. It’s not a coincidence that West Chester University is the first Division Two school to receive the Sudler Trophy; no, it’s incomparable.

Caroline Helms is a first-year English major. CH923621@wcupa.edu

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