When the football team staged their come-from-behind victory last weekend at Northwestern, they did not have the band there with them to provide support for the first and only time this season. Thanks to markedly increased funding this season, the Ohio State University Marching Band was able to afford to travel to more away games this year and the band eagerly took advantage. Unfortunately this past weekend was homecoming at Northwestern and due to the special events planned for halftime due to the occasion, the OSUMB would not have been able to perform at halftime and as a result elected to stay home and give the band members a much deserved weekend off.
In addition to the off weekend giving the band a chance to rest, it gives me a chance to write about one of the most popular OSU football traditions and clear up some misconceptions.
‘Script Ohio’ is TBDBITL’s most famous tradition and most Buckeye fans would probably say that gameday in the Shoe isn’t complete until they see a fourth year sousaphone player strut out to dot the ‘i’. Fondness for ‘Script Ohio’ isn’t limited to OSU fans though as evidenced by it being declared the greatest tradition in college football by numerous media sources and the praise heaped on it by countless fans of other teams.
Of course, you can’t please everyone and ‘Script Ohio’ does have it’s critics and their criticisms tend to boil down to three things: 1. the Script is too long and boring, 2. It is just a follow-the-leader drill and isn’t that impressive, and 3. It was invented by Michigan and the OSUMB stole it.
Fans of that team up North love to tell OSU fans and band members that ‘Script Ohio’ was invented by their marching band and that TBDBITL is just copying them. There is some slight truth to this claim but not nearly as much as Wolverines would like you to believe.
The Michigan Marching Band was the first band to spell out the word ‘Ohio’ in script writing at a game in Columbus in 1932. The only similarity between what Michigan did and what the OSUMB does is that it involves the word ‘Ohio’ in cursive. As can easily be seen in the picture on the left, Michigan’s formation ran diagonally across the field and had a very different shape than the one we are used to.
Michigan’s script also was not created with the band spelling out the word but rather through a scatter drill while the band played “Fight the Team”, very different than the OSUMB’s famous ‘Script Ohio.’
It isn’t clear exactly what inspired OSUMB director Eugene Weigel to come up with ‘Script Ohio’. Some reports credit a skywriter spelling ‘Ohio’ with his plane while another credits the old State Fairgrounds sign. While the performance by the Michigan band four years earlier likely played some role in Weigel’s thinking, it is clear that it only played a minor role in the soon to be famous tradition which debuted in October 1936.
That first performance featured most of the elements of today’s ‘Script Ohio’ — the band writing out the letters like a pen on paper, the playing of ‘Le Regiment de Sambre et Meuse’, and the ‘i’ being dotted.
The biggest difference was that the ‘i’ in the first Script was dotted by a trumpet player, John Walter Brungart; originally the dotting wasn’t anything special and was just done by whoever was in the appropriate position at the top of the little ‘o’. However, Weigel decided that a trumpet player dotting didn’t have enough visual impact and four games later Weigel had sousaphone player Glenn R. Johnson dot the ‘i’ for a first time and a tradition was born; the iconic sousaphone turn and bow was added in 1938 as a result of Johnson accidentally arriving at the top of the eye too early and in need of using up the rest of the music.
The next most common, and easily the most annoying, misconception I hear about ‘Script Ohio’ is that it is just a simple follow-the-leader drill. Some people conclude that the drum major is the only one that needs to know where he is going; they couldn’t be more wrong. Yes, ‘Script Ohio’ could be performed as a simple follow-the-leader drill but it would not have the precision, the smoothness, and the uniformity that it has today and mistakes would be far more common. So if it isn’t a follow-the-leader drill, how does Script actually work?
Each part of the script formation is broken down into a specific number of steps; for the example from the point where the big ‘O’ meets the sideline it is 8 steps along the sideline and then 12 steps curving off the sideline at which point a member needs to be five yards off of the sideline on the 40 yard line and then it is 12 steps up the 40 to hit the crossover. All band members are expected to know the counts for each part of the drill and the points on the field they need to be at; most rows will test their members on their knowledge of this either through written tests or making them properly march the drill on their own (this was the method my row used). It is important that all band members know the steps for the drill as this keeps the line from drifting during a performance; it is a natural tendency for people following in a line to execute turns slightly earlier than the person in front of them and if this happened you would see the letters slowly drifting inwards during a performance. The need to keep the form from drifting isn’t just for cosmetic reasons, it is also important for making sure that the crossovers are executed properly.
The formation and drill is designed so that band members hit the crossovers at just the right time to go through them without having to alter their speed or step size, ensuring a smooth, uniform flow. If the letters drifted, the timing of a marcher’s arrival at the crossover would be thrown off, forcing the marcher to alter their speed and either creating gaps in the formation or backups which create a flow of problems for everyone behind them. Ultimately this would result in band members not being in the right spots in the formation at the end of the drill and could even cause collisions during the crossovers.
The final criticism of “Script Ohio” from some non-OSU fans is that it is too long, slow, and boring. While this is of course a matter of personal taste, I feel that the people who say this are dead wrong. Of course, it is easy to see why some people would say this considering the climate in sports today which emphasizes quick rewards. One weekend of football viewing will immediately show a person how the game has moved toward a faster, more up-tempo pace that emphasizes quick scoring over long, sustained drives and recent rules changes to promote more offense have only increased this.
However it is this current obsession with speed and quick payoffs that makes “Script Ohio” even better. While marching at 144 beats per minute isn’t exactly slow, “Script Ohio” is still a deliberate affair and that is a good thing. While the dotting of the ‘i’ is the ultimate payoff of the drill and the moment that all the fans are waiting for, it is the build up to that moment that makes it special. As one watches the Script deliberately spelling itself out one layer at a time, one can feel the growing anticipation in the stadium, knowing that special moment is coming. And while that anticipation is growing, one has time to appreciate all the little aspects of Script, the perfectly timed crossovers in the big ‘O’ and the ‘h’, the horn flashes at the bottom of the ‘i’ and the little ‘o’, the precision marching of the band, etc… In my opinion, “Script Ohio” is special because of its deliberate pace giving time to feel the growing anticipation, to appreciate the small details, and to feel the weight of tradition, the connection to bygone eras when different generations of fans clapped along to the same song while watching the same drill, these are the things that make “Script Ohio” the greatest tradition in college sports.
Last week the band had the weekend off while the football team played and this week the roles are reversed with the football team getting a break while the band gets back to work. This Saturday the OSUMB hosts the Buckeye Invitational at Ohio Stadium, a high school band competition that will feature 33 of the best high school bands in Ohio. The competition gets underway at 10:15am when Marion Local High School takes the field and will end with TBDBITL taking the field at 6:30 pm; a full schedule can be found here. Tickets will be available at the gate for $14 so come out and enjoy a day of great high school bands and the OSUMB.
I conclude this week’s article with a special treat. Many people have wished they could experience marching in “Script Ohio” and while I can’t exactly make that possible, I can leave you with a first person view of what it is like to be in one of the alumni band scripts on reunion weekend.