Imagine over 100,000 fans on their feet, applauding wildly, as you enter the Horseshoe with a gleaming silver stick in your hand.
This is the reality and life shared by Ohio State University’s drum major, Josh Halter, and assistant drum major, Sam Heinold, who are bringing their standing-ovation performance to a much smaller venue at Kile Field on Oct. 3 when West Jefferson faces off against Fisher Catholic.
Halter and Heinold will perform with the Roughrider marching band during pre-game and at halftime. Band Director Elmer Broecker said musical selections include “Buckeye Battle Cry” and “Sweet Child of Mine.”
“I think it’s great for our music program, along with the connections our new band director (Elmer Broecker) has with OSU,” said high school Principal Dave Metz. “Our band has already been up to OSU and watched the tryouts. It’s a tremendous opportunity for our band students and with Elmer here, it’s going to afford our kids a tremendous opportunity.”
Broecker’s association with OSU’s The Best Damn Band in the Land (TBDBITL) dates back to 1982 when he forged a friendship with OSU Band Director Jon Woods. Broecker also helps direct the university’s basketball and hockey bands and athletic band skull sessions.
“The idea of bringing the drum majors to West Jefferson began two to three years ago,” said Broecker. “The average person attending a West Jefferson game doesn’t often get the opportunity to see what an OSU drum major does, besides dot the ‘I’ in Script Ohio.
“The drum majors do a lot of community outreach. The university is hosting the Buckeye Invitational Contest in the stadium that weekend and the marching band is off that Saturday, so all the stars aligned and we were able to have them come to West Jefferson for homecoming that Friday night.”
According to Broecker, twirling is becoming a lost art at the high school level because many bands, like West Jefferson, switched over to a competition format with a field commander leading the band instead of a drum major.
“You don’t see majorettes or guys who twirl as much anymore,” continued Broecker. “However, it’s because of what these kids (Halter and Heinold) do and their hard work that helps keep this tradition alive. It’s such a neat tradition.”
The pair of OSU drum majors work diligently in cultivating the handful of drum majors at the secondary level and encouraging prospective candidates to tryout for TBDBITL’s D Row, where they spend a year before contending for the prestigious top spot.
Halter was a trombone player at Lakewood High School near Heath before becoming the school’s first drum major. He said his life-long interest in the Buckeyes prompted him to approach Lakewood’s band director and ask if he would consider adding the position. As a junior majoring in economics at OSU’s Fisher College, Halter won the drum major slot in a recent spring competition.
Heinold was a field commander at Finneytown High School near Cincinnati and is one of an atypical number of drum majors who landed the position without high school experience. He had to wait until he arrived at Ohio State before beginning his twirling career in D Row, where he spent two years before becoming the assistant drum major this year.
“When I got to OSU, I was in the athletic band because it looked like something fun to do,” said Heinold, who is in charge of alternates and twirls during post-game, “but I missed being out front of the band, so I joined D Row. I am a very rare breed of drum majors who did not twirl in high school. The last drum major, in the same situation, won the top spot back in 1980 and was also from Cincinnati.”
On a typical football game day, the drum majors get to the stadium around 6 a.m. Halter said he makes sure the rest of D Row has arrived and then he begins a stretching routine and mentally prepares for the performances to follow.
The band warms up in their stadium complex and Halter watches tapes of practice sessions before everyone heads out to an artificial turf-covered practice field to work on the day’s shows.
“Then we come back to the band center in the stadium and eat lunch before lining up to go to the Skull Session at St. John’s,” continued Halter, who writes a majority of his routines. “They keep us so busy during the morning, that the only alone time I have is the 30 to 45 seconds before I run out into the stadium.”
His dash into the stadium is greeted by more than 100,000 cheering fans waiting for that singular touch of feathers on a white hat against the green turf, signaling a decades-old Buckeye tradition carried on by the youth of today.