State Marching Band Finals History

Band competition has been a part of the school music scene in Ohio since the early part of this century. The forerunners of the OMEA, the Ohio High School Band Association, and the Ohio School Band and Orchestra Association were all formed, at least in part, to foster competition in the state. Following the success of the Fostoria, Ohio Boys Band in winning the first national band contest in 1923 held in Chicago, the Fostoria director, John W. Wainwright, formed the Ohio High School Band Association. Ohio's first contest was held in 1924 in Fostoria with eight bands in attendance. Prize money was supplied by the music industry including Barnhouse Publishers and Conn Instrument Company. There were four adjudicators in these early contests. By 1928 three adjudicators commented on the groups' intonation, instrumentation, tone and harmonic balance, tone quality, precision and interpretation, and a fourth judged the band in sight-reading. In 1932 the newly formed Ohio Music Education Association stated among its goals “the promotion of state-wide contests in vocal and instrumental music." Furthermore, when OMEA affiliated with MENC (Music Educators National Conference) in 1934 the two groups' statement concerning contests mentioned that the purpose of these contests is to promote education through music.

The Contest Committee of OMEA was formed in 1934 for the purpose of overseeing contest operations in Ohio. The committee recommended in 1935 that these contests deviate from the practice of assigning ratings and points for the bands' performances and begin to use a “ratings only" method of adjudication. In 1936 the committee recommended that the State adopt a “five rating plan." The former six rating plan included the levels “superior, excellent, very good, good, fair, and poor." Each of these levels was assigned points with a superior worth 10, excellent 7, very good 4, good 2, fair 1, and poor 0. The new system deleted the “very good" category, as well as doing away with the point system. The sight-reading rating could lower the overall rating if it was more than one rating lower than the final rating of the three combined judges.

Competitions were suspended in the state during World War II and ran into rough times in the 1950s when school administrator associations and the North Central Association recommended that other than athletic contests, inter-scholastic events should be curtailed. This recommendation was rescinded in 1951, leaving such determination up to the individual school systems.

In 1951 Ohio began to use the district/state levels of adjudication still in use today. Bands that received a “I" or “superior" rating in the district contest then advanced into the state level several weeks later in the spring. The five rating plan was refined so that there was a well-defined standard assigned to each rating. This statement of standards still accompanies the five rating plan today.

Beginning in the 1950s and up until 1980, there were as many as ten different marching band competitions held at various schools each fall throughout the state. Several of the most noted were held at Fairborn, Roger Bacon, Marietta, West Jefferson, Zanesville, Wadsworth and Marlington High Schools. The Marching Bands of America contest movement was just beginning to be a force in the state by the late 1970s. Several Ohio bands that were fairly close to neighboring states participated in contests in such circuits as the Pennsylvania Federation of Contest Judges and the Mid-West Judges' Circuit. Each of these contests used similar, yet distinctive rules and regulations and announced rankings of the groups participating. Classifications of groups were generally determined by band size and prizes were awarded to outstanding auxiliary units and field commanders/drum majors.

In this pre-1980 time period there became a growing increase in the influence and sponsorships of these contests by commercial interests such as music companies and corporations (MBA Grand Nationals was sponsored by a national food chain). Nearby states were holding state championships. OMEA began to take an interest in these contests in the mid-1970's and editorials began to mention the problem of director and student burnout associated with contest involvement. There was concern in the ranks of OMEA that commercial interests would soon take control of marching band competitions in Ohio. Some feel that this pushed OMEA into the marching band competition area as much as anything. It is interesting to note that similar concerns were expressed by MENC in the 1920's when the Conn Company sponsored the National Band Contests. This most likely was one of the reasons MENC took over sponsorship of these contests in 1924.

In 1979–80 the OMEA formed an ad hoc committee to study various proposals for the formation of a state marching band finals and sanctioned contests. Members of this committee included Steve Berry, Dick Cool, Gary Tirey, Jim Swearingen, Tim Swinehart, Max Treier, and was co-chaired by Jack Evans, former director of The Ohio State University Marching Band and Terren Frenz.

The following goals statements came from this committee:

  • To provide at the state level, for those interested in marching band competitions, a competitive event controlled by OMEA. Rules and regulations for this event would follow as closely as possible the rules and regulations for other OMEA Competitive Festivals.
  • To encourage the co-existence of the many independent (invitational, etc.) marching band contests and festivals now operating in Ohio by making it possible for these contests to serve as qualifying contests for the OMEA State Competition. Some flexibility in the operation of qualifying contests is included to meet local traditions and conditions.
  • To bring about, in Marching Band Competitions in the State of Ohio, standardization of rules, procedures, and adjudication through the required guidelines for qualifying contests including the use of OMEA adjudication forms and scoring systems. The intent is to provide competition in which recognition is given for the quality of performance regardless of the type of band or style of marching.
After several revisions and much discussion, the Ohio Music Education Association State Board decided at its spring meeting in 1980 to sanction marching band contests that followed the OMEA designated format and gave permission to hold the first State Finals on November 1, 1980. The OMEA Marching Band Guidelines were published in the Triad and were available from Steve Berry. Mr. Berry served for five years as the first “Marching Band Affairs Chair" on the OMEA Competitions Committee. Bands were eligible to participate in the State Finals if they received a “I" or “superior" rating at one of the sixteen OMEA-sanctioned contests using the OMEA rules and regulations. 36 bands qualified the first year. The number of qualifying contests grew to 30 in 1981 with 64 attending the State Finals.

In subsequent years the complexity of the guidelines grew from a two-page outline into a 45-page handbook of rules and regulations that includes a comprehensive section dealing with caption area adjudication training, contest management, and the philosophy of competing in marching band contests in Ohio. In the development of this handbook, several “rules congresses" were attended by representatives from each of the OMEA districts in the state. Richard Rhodes, Larry Kelley, William Guegold, William Wittman, Randall Clark, Michael Gallehue, Patricia Meeks, John Purdy, David Handshue, and Brian Stevens have followed Steve Berry as Marching Band Affairs Chairs.

In February of 1982 at the OMEA State Professional Conference held in Cincinnati, there began a series of “adjudicator training sessions" to help clarify judging practices and to increase the number of qualified judges available to judge the OMEA system. OMEA contests were required to hire judges from the OMEA-approved list as compiled by the Marching Band Affairs Chair. To become listed in the approved list, prospective judges were required to attend these seminars and make formal application to the Marching Band Affairs Chair. Adjudication background, personal contest ratings, contest observation, and letters of reference were part of the application and certification process. The prototype 1982 training session format was later expanded and additional sessions were held at Otterbein College and at The Ohio State University. The current scope of these sessions has been expanded to include competing directors and contest chairpersons, as well as adjudicators.

With a greater emphasis placed on the “total" marching band program, revisions in Auxiliary, Field Commander, General Effect, and Music adjudications were implemented in 1996, rewarding those bands showing a trend towards a “holistic" musical and visual program. These changes place more of a premium on the total visual enhancement of the marching band. Today, the “overall" band rating will be announced, to emphasize the importance of the total band's performance, rather than each separate entity.

In 2004, a critique system was added to the local event process to allow directors to speak with the adjudicators following their performance to gain a better understanding how to improve their bands, and in 2006, visual captions were updated from Marching and Maneuvering Execution and General Effect to Visual Performance and Visual Effect to better reflect current practices in marching band visual design.

The Ohio Music Education Association format of adjudicated marching band events has become a solid foundation for 60–65 local adjudicated events each year. The OMEA State Marching Band Finals continues to improve as bands reach higher levels of achievement and directors gain greater knowledge and experience in this area. An ongoing effort is always taking place to enhance an already strong program brought about by people with a vision to improve music education.

Program notes provided by William K. Guegold, Ph.D., edited by William L. Wittman, J. Michael Gallehue, Patricia Meeks, Brian Stevens, David Handshue, and JD Latorre.