Buccaneers championship weekend

This story was written for my Creative Writing class at Delaware County Community College.

Reading_BuccaneersI stood there, full of anxiety and anticipation. I could barely breathe, losing all feeling in my body. Was it possible? Could we really do it? I had no answers. All I could do was stand there and wait. It was all out of my hands. I did my part, but was it enough?

I stole a glance on both sides of me. On the left, members of Minnesota Brass looked on, awaiting the same announcement. I looked to my right at my friend, Tarah. She looked back over at me and smiled. Four years later, we were both standing in the same place, hoping for the same outcome. But the path was much different this year than in any of the previous years.

And then the booming voice of Fran Haring came over the speakers in the stadium. The crowd silenced immediately.

“And in second place, with the score of 97.588…”

My heart was racing. Anyone standing next to me was sure to be able to hear the thumping in my chest. I held my breath. This was it. The moment of truth had arrived…

*  *  *

I rushed home from classes, knowing that I had already missed a good amount of practice. I was exhausted from practicing three hours the night before and having classes all morning long. But today was another day, and nonetheless, it was also championship weekend.

I pulled into the parking lot of Lucent, or more commonly known as the Greater Reading Expo Center. I looked ahead to see the familiar black truck sitting at the top of the field, emblazoned with the logo of the Reading Buccaneers Drum & Bugle Corps. I arrived just in time to see an ambulance on our practice field.

I watched as I unloaded my trumpet and put on my sneakers. I tried to peek around my car to see what was going on, but with no luck. It was not until I began walking up to the corps that I finally found out. Martha, my section leader, was walking up at the same time.

“What happened? Who’s hurt?” I asked immediately.

“It was Laura. She tripped going backwards and hit her head on the pavement. She was bleeding a little bit, but she’s alright.” Martha informed me. “Did you hear about Geoff?”

“No,” I replied. I could only imagine that his car probably broke down again on his long way up from Virginia.

“He went to the doctor’s today to check up on his leg, you know, because of all those Charlie horses he keeps getting.” Martha continued on. “Apparently he has a blood clot in his leg and they sent him straight to the hospital. So he won’t be able to come this weekend.”

I could not believe it. After all the work he had put into the season, Geoff would not be able to take part in the best weekend.

We joined the corps in the upper field and practiced until the sun was far below the horizon. It was our last night at Lucent for the 2009 season. We got a couple of hours to eat and relax before having to load onto the busses at ten o’clock.

Once we were fully loaded and all accounted for, including Laura, who rejoined us at the buses, we were off to Rochester, New York. The overnight bus ride that took roughly six hours was our chance to sleep. Once we arrived at Medina High School, we staggered off the susses, everyone half asleep. We grabbed only our overnight essentials and stumbled into the gym, found our little sleeping space, and curled up for a few more hours.

*  *  *

I awoke to Chuck Jacobs, the head drum major, kicking my air mattress. It was the custom in the corps for the drum majors to go around and wake up the corps. I changed to my practice clothes and headed down the hallway to the cafeteria. Our wonderful support staff always cooked us the best food all season long, but nothing ever topped what they made us the weekend of championships.

I sat down at the table with some of my closer friends. Andrew was on the phone with Steve, a former member of the corps. I looked over just in time to see Andrew’s face go white.

“Nuh uh. Dude, that’s not funny. Don’t lie to me about that.” Andrew spoke quietly into the phone. You could see the disbelief in his face. “He can’t be. It’s not possible.”

I had the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Steve was our outside connection to Geoff. He had been sending us information during the bus ride up.

Andrew looked down at the table. “He really is? Geoff really died?”

I looked over at Tarah who sat two seats away from me. Tears began welling up in my eyes. I could not bear to sit in the cafeteria. I stood up and hurried out into the hallway where it was empty and quiet. Tarah followed behind me. I leaned against the lockers and just broke down. I could hear Tarah sobbing beside me.

Slowly a few others joined us in the hallway, including my best friend Valerie. She slumped down the lockers, unable to stand any longer. A few of the administration came out to where we were. They knew we had somehow found out the news before they had time to announce it. Jerry Ware, business manager of the corps and someone who is like a second father to me, came over and pulled me into a hug. I cried on his shoulder for a few minutes before he helped walk me and the others back into the cafeteria.

Everyone knew something was wrong when they saw the few of us come walking in, red blotches on our faces and swollen eyes from our fallen tears. Jimmy Gruber, the corps director, stood up to inform the corps of the sudden passing of our friend.

“We have some news to tell you,” Gruber started. “We received word that Geoff passed away. He was loved by everyone in this corps. No matter if you barely spoke to him or you were one of his close friends, everyone knew him.”

The silent cafeteria began filling with the sounds of sniffling and soft sobs.

“The only thing we can do now is to keep going. Keep pushing forward. It’s what he would have wanted us to do.” Gruber said. “We, as a staff and administration, have decided to leave his spot empty on the field, as a tribute to him. Practice will go on as scheduled. The show and the corps must go on. We must pull together and hold each other up. We must lean on one another and we can and will get through this.”

*  *  *

Practice did go on as scheduled, though much quieter and much more somber than I had ever experienced. Many people were starting to return back to normal, laughing and joking, trying to lighten the air. I just could not. I stayed silent the entire morning block. I was still in shock and disbelief that such a thing could happen, and on this weekend of all weekends.

By ensemble in the afternoon, my mood had lightened up, and I began to feel the thrill of competition again. At one point I looked over at the sideline and saw my parents walking up. During out next water break I ran over to them. They came to make sure I was okay. They told me the news had spread all over their hotel, and just about everyone knew what had happened.

They stayed for the rest of the practice and watched our run-through at the end. It felt good. We all felt good. We were ready for tonight.

I grabbed my uniform hanging up on the rack, and it wasn’t until I made it back to the gym to begin folding it for the bus ride that I noticed the change. The support staff made black ribbons and put them on every uniform above the “B” insignia, right above our hearts. It was the perfect place.

As the corps walked to our warm up site in Rochester, we passed by a few corps. Those few that we saw were wearing blue or black ribbons on their uniforms as a tribute to us and Geoff. Words could not describe how appreciative we were of the support we received from other corps.

Our preliminary performance was more than anyone expected after everything we had been through that day. It was performed well, but it was a safe show. As we were getting on the bleachers for the corps photo, we heard the scores announced. Minnesota Brass and the Connecticut Hurricanes both received a 94.875. We had a bad feeling that the judges were scoring low for the night. Then they got to our score: 97.175.

We were shocked that we almost three-pointed the second place corps. Smiles were seen on everyone’s face. Had there ever been such a gap before at prelims? Maybe it was a sign for things to come, although we also knew that we probably angered the rest of the corps.

We celebrated with a few drinks before heading back to the school and getting some well-needed sleep before the big and final day.

*  *  *

Practice was one of the best we had all season. Everyone was excited, but no one went overboard. Ensemble went off without a hitch. The staff barely had any corrections after reps. And to cap off practice, the run-through was better than our performance at prelims. There was nothing left to do, nothing left to change. It was all up to us to just perform the show like we were taught.

The mood on the bus ride was exciting. Everyone was anxious to get there and perform. Martha popped a CD into the DVD player and had a party mix playing with some good ‘ole classics from the 80’s and 90’s, including Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On A Prayer” and Chumbawumba’s “Tubthumping”. People were in the aisles dancing away, and everyone on the bus was singing. It was a great way to loosen up.

Our warm up was relaxed and long. The staff did not over-play us, wanting to keep our faces ready for the show. We put on our uniform tops for the final time, everyone doing their specific ritual. Afterwards, people sought out each other to hug or wish good luck. I made sure to get all my hugs in, and Tarah came over for our pre-show ritual handshake. We have never missed a show in our four years of marching together.

When we were finished, Mike Britcher, our assistant hornline caption head, pulled us into the center. We put our arms around each other and sang our ballad. It was beautiful, filled with so much emotion. It was enough to bring a tear to anyone’s eye.

As we lined up to march to the stadium, I leaned over to get one more sip from the water bottle. As I bent over, my knee, which has been injured for two years, cracked so loudly that the person next to me heard it. It felt as though something had broken off, sending instant pain throughout my entire leg.

Just my luck. Of course I would hurt myself as we head towards the field. I limped my way the few blocks to PAETEC Park, trying to block out the pain. As we turned the last corner, it was the street lined with all the other corps who already competed, packing up their trucks. As we marched by, they clapped and wished us all the best. We clustered up by the field entrance and waited for Minnesota Brass to finish their show. Carl Ruocco, the staff coordinator, brought us in for his pre-finals speech.

“You have the biggest target on your back. For almost five seasons, no one has ever been better than you. No one has ever come close. Forget all of them. You’ve prepared for this all season. You go out there and show them you’re better. Screw everyone else! You’ve been through more than anyone this weekend. Lean on each other and put on the best show you know how. Show them you deserve it.”

Once he finished, we lined up to take the field. Minnesota Brass came off as we entered through the gate. I heard our fans, friends and family cheering as we marched on: “Yo ho! Yo ho! A pirate’s life for me! Yo ho! Yo ho! Buccaneers are we!”

*  *  *

I stood in opening set. I kiss my hand and pointed it towards the sky. This show was for Geoff. I knew he was right there with us. My adrenaline was pumping. I could not feel the pain in my leg anymore. The excitement had taken over.

We were breezing through the show. Everything was going smoothly. We kept the support going throughout the show to each other. “Keep going, keep going! Push through it!”

We ended the third song and the hornline broke off into the partners for the next set. I glanced to my left. It was empty. Geoff was my partner. Even though there was no one there, I could still hear him. “How are you doing Geoff?” “Ugh…last song…almost done.” I could see him huffing along next to me. It gave me a renewed energy to finish the show.

We got to the last set and last note of the show. I brought my horn down. I had played my heart out. The audience erupted. I could not help but smile. It was the best show I had ever marched in, no matter what the outcome may be. It was only then that the feeling in my body came back. My knee was in the utmost pain. Tears began flowing freely from my eyes. It was from a mix of pain, happiness and sorrow.

We came back out along with the thirteen other corps for retreat. I led the hornline around the track and down the field into our block. There we awaited our fate.

Bill Snook came over to me to ask for help. I turned around and in his hands were Geoff’s uniform and trumpet. I helped him set it up on the field behind me, the spot where he always stood in retreat.

Jay Landis, our treasurer and good friend of mine, came around right after with the dog tags for the season. I took my aussie off my head and he put the tag around my neck. It is a moment of honor I live for every season. To know you worked and performed the hardest you could and you made it through the season, it all culminates in that simple tag.

“Congratulations on making it through another season,” he said with a smile.

Fran Haring’s voice broke over the speakers. The crowd silenced.

“And in second place, with the score of 97.588…Minnesota Brass!”

A smile broke over my face. We did it. We won our fifth consecutive championship, and we did it after everything we had been through. Now the only thing left was to hear our score. There was only one record left untouched by us, and that was the highest score. The Syracuse Brigadiers held it at a 98.600. Bucs came close to it in 2005 with a 98.450, but no one had ever come close since.

After hearing Minnesota score only a 97.588, I was quickly losing hope. We got another undefeated season and that was probably all the judges were going to let us have. We would get ripped in the score and fall just shy of the record.

And then Fran Haring came on for one last time.

“In first position, with the score of nine…nine point zero two five. 99.025…the 2009 DCA World Champion Reading Buccaneers from Reading, Pennsylvania!”

The crowd was a mix of screams and cheers, all filled with the astonishment of what we had just achieved.

I just started laughing and crying at the same time. I could not believe what I just heard. I looked at Tarah, who was also crying and smiling.

One by one, all the corps left the field in the order that they placed. After everyone was gone, DCA representatives came up to us, medals dangling off their arms. I took my aussie off again as he handed me my medal. I put it on and reached into my pocket and pulled out my three other medals from the previous seasons. Four years ago, I would never have dreamed I would be standing there with four World Champion medals hanging around my neck.

Everyone broke from the block and started hugging. The staff came up and joined in as well. Everywhere you looked, all you could see were smiles and tears. It was the greatest accomplishment the majority of us had ever had. We broke or tied five different records in one night. We were the best. And not only that, our staff informed us that we received a perfect 100 in field visual, a perfect 400 for the drumline, and 197’s or 198’s out of 200 for everything else.

After performing our victory concert for the audience members who remain, we circled around the drum major’s podium, arms around each other. We lifted an arm in the air with pointer finger out. “We’re all good men, yes we’re Buccaneers…” We all sang our corps song as one, current members, staff and alumni joined together in harmony.

It was a perfect end to the night. And we knew Geoff was with us the entire time, smiling down upon us for what we had done. I know he could not have been prouder.

As I stood on the field, looking at the sight around me, I remembered one of my favorite quotes: “Win today and we walk together forever.” No one will ever know what it was like unless you were a part of the 2009 Buccaneers season. And for the 131 of us who marched onto that field together, performed that show together, and won together, well just like the quote said, we will walk together forever.

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Categories: Arts & Entertainment, Drum & Bugle Corps, Short Stories

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