Script Ohio celebration planned Saturday

SOUSAPHONE players aren’t known for gaining attention – unless the player is a member of the Ohio State University Marching Band.

A fourth-year or fifth-year sousaphone player traditionally dots the “i” in Script Ohio, whose 75th anniversary will be marked Saturday during the Ohio State-Wisconsin football game at Ohio Stadium.

It seems fitting that the player of an instrument named for John Philip Sousa, “The March King,” is designated for this honor, but that isn’t the reason that the sousaphone player is selected. In fact, the first musician to dot the “i” was a trumpet player, but that was changed by former band director Eugene Weigel, founder of Script Ohio.

In 1937, the second season for Script Ohio at an OSU football game, Weigel selected a sousaphone player for the honor, because that instrument is more visible than the trumpet.

Only rarely are non-members of The Best Damn Band in the Land, also known as TBDBITL, named to dot the “i,” but two former Eastern Ohio residents gained the honor in 2009. They were former astronaut and former senator John Glenn and his wife, Annie, who once lived in New Concord.

Honorary “I”-dotters include Bob Hope, Woody Hayes, retired ticket director Robert Ries, heavyweight champion James “Buster” Douglas, former band arranger and composer Richard Heine, businessman and alumnus Leslie H. Wexner as well as former OSU President Novice Fawcett, OSU President Gordon Gee, former band directors Paul Droste, Jack Evans and their wives. The 13 seniors of the 2002-03 national championship football team dotted the “i” at the national championship celebration in 2003.

The Glenns aren’t the only East Ohio connections to the TBDBITL. In addition to area residents who have played in the marching band over the years, at least two band members with links to the area have been drum majors.

One is John E. Criss, a Steubenville resident who was drum major in 1949, and the other is Ben Kline, the 1962 drum major.

Kline isn’t from Eastern Ohio, but he was an intern at The Times Leader one summer in the early 1960s. I wasn’t working at The Times Leader when he was here, but Gladys Van Horne recalls that he worked on various assignments while at the T-L.

“He was a personable young man,” Van Horne said.

I do remember that Kline and Gail Horner, a Martins Ferry resident who won numerous baton-twirling championships at a young age, used to practice with their batons on the former tennis court across from the high school, which once stood on Hanover Street.

On the Web site about OSU drum majors, Kline told of an incident when he led the band, and Evans was the band director.

He noted, “Professor Evans frequently expressed the view that at Ohio State, if not every band, the drum major was not to be so showy or outstanding as to take away the audience’s attention from the musicians. He once lectured me on this, over his PA system in front of the entire band, after I had tried a back bend during the playing of ‘A Mighty Fortress Is Our God’ in a stationary formation. The drum major ‘is out there to be seen but not to do anything,’ he said. ‘It was only the band that counted.’ This was an embarrassing incident, but I basically agreed with Evans’ view.”

My late husband, Cal, and I talked to Kline during the late 1990s when the alumni band members were having a get-together.

At halftime of Saturday’s game with Wisconsin, four members of the 1936 band and Weigel’s daughter, Mary Deetz, will be honored as part of Script Ohio’s 75th anniversary.

Currently directing the band is Dr. Jon Woods, who plans to retire at the end of the school year. He has served as director for 37 years, longer than any other leader in the band’s history. According to The Columbus Dispatch, Assistant Director Jonathan Waters said that “the band and the university have some ideas cooked up for honoring the departing band leader.” No other details have been revealed since that time.

Regarding the origin of Script Ohio, according to the OSU Marching Band’s history,Weigel said, “Searching for ideas, I remembered the rotating sign around the Times Square Building in New York City, … and also the sky-writing advertisements at state fair time”

Ohio was spelled out in script four years before Script Ohio was initiated and surprisingly. it was by the University of Michigan Marching Band. That version in 1932, however, was a stationary block formation, not the moving arrangement originated by Weigel.

It wasn’t until 1966 that the first double Script Ohio was performed, and it was followed by the first triple Script in 1971 and then the first quadruple Script in 1977. Things became a bit more complicated Sept. 2 of this year when the band performed its largest Script to date, and The Columbus Dispatch reported it was a quadruple Script with 768 marchers, three-fourths of whom were band alumni.

The Script definitely is impressive, but so is the music from one of the few all-brass and percussion university marching bands in the country and one of the largest of its type in the world.

I remember how Cal used to say what a big thrill it was to see and hear the band as it marched onto the field, and that’s from a sports editor who was there to concentrate on the game.

Pokas can be reached at