Monday, July 28, 2014

Damian Sheets

O' Captain my Captain
The past couple of days have weighed heavily on my heart as I have witnessed an organization (and individual) that I have held so dear to my heart be exposed, insulted, mocked, persecuted, misrepresented, and finally dismantled by the very alma mater that I believed was dedicated to the betterment of that same organization, its members and the community around it.
What I have witnessed over these past couple of days has led me down a path I never thought possible, questioning my allegiance to a University that has been in my heart since I can remember even having the ability to remember. While I did not grow up in Ohio, my parents (both Ohioans) raised me on the core values that I believe were instilled in them by such a great state and its leading university: discipline, loyalty, scholarship, benevolence, family (actual and metaphorical), and empathy. I emphasize the latter two core values because I believe they are especially important in the context of these recent events.
My first true encounter with The Ohio State University Marching Band is undoubtedly similar to many others. I was five or six years old, travelling from Las Vegas to Columbus to go to my first Ohio State game with my father and grandfather. Times were different back then. I learned that my grandfather had never attended college because of his need to support his family and play a role in World War II. Similarly, my father, whom I thought had graduated from Ohio State, was forced to graduate at another institution due to his required military service at the time. Nonetheless, their allegiance to this great university was unwavering, and had been impressed upon me from minute one of my existence.
Upon arriving in Columbus, it was a typical grey and dreary fall day with the leaves changing, the clouds hanging over and rain looming. Our first stop was high street, where they took me to Buckeye Donuts to drink hot chocolate and play connect four before walking around campus and showing me where my mother attended her classes as a student some twenty years earlier. The trees and buildings were beautiful and nothing like I had seen in Las Vegas. All of the fans and students were so excited just to be alive, engaging in another great Saturday of college football and festivities. It didn’t feel like it was about winning or losing, or being number one, but just being a part of a great institution during truly great activities on such a great day. As I continued around campus, this pride echoed through the hallways of every building and resonated in the tone of every voice.
The next stop was St. John’s Arena, where my father began to tell me stories about the band. I remember him saying “If you listen real close, you can hear the band coming. Listen for the drums.” I sat and listened, eager to be the one that heard the band first. The fans would start to clap and die down, and clap some more. Then, out of nowhere, the entire Arena erupted into screams and applause, and with a quick exit, the band came out, so crisp, so clean, so pristine. The quickness of the steps and movements, I remember, were so precise that I could barely contain myself. And then they played
And I knew….
The music, the fight songs, the pride, all so overwhelmingly strong, that I couldn’t imagine any better place in the world to be on any football Saturday. I knew that this was something I wanted to be a part of. I saw the effect it had on the fans around me, the inspiration they drew from it and the sheer fun each member was having. I didn’t see depression, coercion, or harassment, but instead pure happiness and joy from the sons and daughters who were laughing, dancing with one another and visiting their families up in the stands. Once called to order, their professionalism and discipline was distinct, each member working together to accomplish one task…greatness.
And I knew…
Fast forward twelve years (and past an immeasurable number of return visits to watch TBDBITL) to my arrival on Ohio State’s campus as an entering freshman. For the past twelve years, I had been practicing my trumpet, attending music camps, and taking instruction from local TBDBITL alum in preparation for this moment. As with most freshman auditioning for the band, I was forced to move-in two weeks early into an empty dorm suite. Tryouts began and I quickly learned that, while I could play, I was in over my head from a physical standpoint.
And I was cut….
First cut…. (4.5 average marching score for those who know what that means…ouch)
For those of you who have never experienced first cuts, it is a spirit crushing ordeal, one that makes you feel worthless and want to give up on your dreams. They read off the numbers and ask you to go to the other room. At first, you hope that they are just moving you or reassigning you, or that you are going in to another “extra session” where they will provide additional assistance, but then you hear the director start talking to the larger group in your absence, and you know that, notwithstanding how hard you‘ve tried, you’ve failed.
Enter Jonathan Waters, then a graduate assistant, and many other band staff. They walk into to room to give you the bad news, however, instead of simply thanking you and sending you on your way, they tell you war stories about how they got cut, or even first cut, and were able to overcome it to become band members and even squad leaders. They encourage you to engage in the athletic band program, participate in spring band, attend summer sessions, and come back the next year better than ever. They tell you how valuable you are to the organization and to never give up on the music. They instill hope.
And you try again…
Over the next year, I came to know Dr. Woods, Jonathan Waters, and Chris Hoch quite well. As directors and staff, they constantly encouraged me to push myself to the limit and learn from those who had been a part of the organization for some time (“vets” as I would learn they were called). They let me travel, as a freshman, on tournament trips, which only motivated me more. When Spring Band came about, Jon was always there, encouraging me to pick up my feet and turn my corners square. Finally, Jon and Dr. Woods offered me the opportunity of a lifetime, a spot in volunteer band, actually marching in a script.
And I failed again…
Some of you have seen a video of the Script Ohio performance on August 24, 2002. For those of you who have but can’t remember it, let me remind you. It is the one where a bozo collides with a trombone player at the “h” crossover and has to run back to his script spot, in front of 106,000 people. I was that bozo, who had finally been given this opportunity to prove that I should be a member of the greatest marching band in the world, and I blew it (in front of my parents no less) on its biggest stage. That was me, and as heart crushing as being first cut the year earlier, there was no comparison between that and this.
With tryouts only two days later, I returned to my grandmother’s home, only to sulk and consider if I was worth of even trying out at this point. There I stayed until three hours before candidate tryouts were to begin, when I got a call from my father. “No, I don’t think I’m going to tryout this year. I got the opportunity to march, that’s all I ever wanted.” I said to him. “Are you crazy,” he said, “If you don’t go to these tryouts because of one mistake, after having spent your entire life pursuing this dream, I’ve truly overestimated you as my son.” For the next hour, I sat and thought back to the words of encouragement that Jon Waters and other band staff had given me throughout the prior year, and my father was right. I needed to go back and do this. Otherwise, I was ignoring the very thing that TBDBITL was about: figuring out a way to learn from your mistakes and driving through them in order to be a part of something truly great.
And I drove through it….
Tryouts were tough, but I made it, as a regular no less. My squad leaders, Henry Lee and Nick Strickling, two of the most supportive and instructive band members I have ever met, were nothing short of encouraging and positive every step of the way. Along with some fourth and fifth year members in the row, Henry and Nick made it clear that all of the senior members in the band were there to help us with any problems we may have. This included help with marching, music, and even more personal issues, like studies, jobs, relationships, or problems within the band. It became apparent that being a member of this organization was more than just being a number (“T10” and later “T9” in my case), it was being part of a family. This is a sentiment that was reflected every step of the way by every member, and echoed by band leadership. There was never a moment where directors or staff made us feel like we could not talk to them if we needed help.
Throughout my two years in the Ohio State University Marching Band, I witnessed many things, both on and off the field. Some were positive and some might be construed by others as negative, but one thing I never saw was leadership condoning any activity which acted to harass any other member, or place them in such an uncomfortable position that they felt they had no recourse. In fact, that leadership, which included Jonathan Waters, always made it clear that if there was anything that you (as a student) felt wasn’t right, you should immediately bring that to the attention of your squad leader, and if that got you nowhere, you should bring it to them directly. I had such a moment, and brought it to the attention of a senior member of my row (not even a squad leader). With great concern, the senior member took care of it immediately, and within a couple of days, things were much more positive and the problem completely resolved.
There has been a lot of talk recently about students being “forced” to engage in activities like taking oaths of secrecy, marching in their underwear, engaging in “derogatory” song singing, performing “rookie tricks,” performing “physical” challenges, completing rookie “midterms”, engaging in “sexual” and allegedly “derogatory” activities on busses, and creating/reading derogatory publications. What the university and news outlets fail to discuss, likely because of their decision to act with haste instead of reserve and thoroughness, is that so many of these alleged “events” are misrepresented and so many positive aspects of the band have been outright ignored.
First and foremost, directorship and student leadership never forced anyone to do anything in TBDBITL, except give 110% on the field when practicing and performing. From your initial summer session until your last day in band, there are only a few statements that can sum up the position said directorship/leadership: “Enthusiasm”, “Pick up your feet”, “Turn your corners square,” “Drive, Drive, Drive”, and “Drive through it”. These are the bedrock principles of what we are all taught by this leadership core from the moment we become members. We are taught to work hard, push through the pain, and give everything we have to our performances and our lives. As long as we do that, we have earned the right to call ourselves members and alumni of The Best Damn Band in the Land.
Leadership and directorship always made it known that they were there to help the students in any way possible. Whether it be trouble with classes, family problems, or trouble within the organization, this leadership core always encouraged communication with both squad leaders and the directors so that assistance and the appropriate steps could be offered in making the experience the best it could possibly be. In fact, to my knowledge, never did a director, squad leader, or senior member fail to meet with anyone who had a concern about the band, its actions (on and off the field), or its direction. On many occasions members were honored to have directors write letters of recommendation for medical school, law school, and the like.
With regards to the alleged “activities” as represented (more misrepresented) in the University’s “report”, band leadership did not condone any activity which acted to discriminate or harass any other individual, and such was made clear IMMEDIATELY after every member’s inception into the organization. As an example, each year band directorship arranged a meeting with the newly selected band to go over certain rules, policies and procedures. These policies and procedures were deeply rooted in the same TITLE IX that the University now claims Jonathan Waters did not take steps to enforce. During this meeting, Directors, including Jonathan Waters, explained how hazing, sexual discrimination, sexual harassment and inappropriate conduct would be inexcusable, and if such were to occur, it should be brought to the attention of the Directors immediately. Every student was required to sign an acknowledgement to these policies. That being said, it cannot be denied that some of the alleged activities did occur, however, under very different circumstances than portrayed in the University’s report, and certainly without the knowledge of the Directors, who were very much dedicated to the process of eliminating such alleged behavior.
While the University has chosen to take an unnecessarily negative approach towards Jonathan Waters and the Ohio State University Marching Band, as a whole, for these alleged “activities”, what is more disheartening is its attempts to misconvey the facts surrounding such and its further attempts to now vilify Former Director Jonathan Waters in its efforts to justify its almost unilateral and knee-jerk reaction. It is important to note that, the report, which purports to have talked with five current and five former marching band members, was prepared during a time period when the band is effectively dormant and while many students are away for the summer. This, in and of itself, acts to question the integrity of a report which, if taken in its entirety as true, would lead every reader to believe that every man and woman, gay or straight, white or minority, believes themselves to be “victims” of this “horridly offensive” organization. The inconvenient timing of and quick-to-act decision making in this report has, in essence forced the silence of hundreds, if not thousands of current and past members of this organization who might share opinions contrary to those depicted in the report. This includes many who are women, minorities, and those with alternative sexual preferences.
Had the University thoroughly interviewed current and past members of the band, they would have seen that several of its highest ranking members are and have been both women and minorities. This includes, but is not limited to:
• Dwight Hudson and Oliver McGee, both African American drum majors, and integral parts of OSUMB history. During Mr. Hudson’s tenure, then Director Dr. Paul Droste changed band rules so that Mr. Hudson could return for a third consecutive year because, to quote Mike Harden from the September 1979 issue of Ohio Magazine, “DWIGHT – At halftime, he owns the house that Woody built.” This is an honor that only three other drum majors have had in OSUMB history, and is the only time a drum major has had that honor since 1930. Both Dwight and Oliver were also elected “Most Inspirational Bandsmen” in 1978 and 1980, respectively, an honor based entirely on the votes and support of fellow band members.
• Michelle Graf, the first female drum major in the Ohio State University Marching Band, and Kathryn Mitchell, 2003 Drum Major and 2002 Assistant Drum Major.
• Willie Sullivan, an African American male who served as Assistant Director for 12 years.
• Erica Neidlinger, the first female Assistant Director (1998-1999), and Lisa Galvin (2005). Lisa Galvin also served as a Squad Leader of R-Row and, in 2008, joined the staff as a Music Arranger.
• Marcia Lareau, the first female member of the Ohio State University Marching Band Music Arranging staff, with her first show on November 8th, 1986, receiving a standing ovation.
• Wilson Murray, the first African American OSUMB member elected as “Most Inspirational Bandsmen” in 1965.
• Marcel Reeder, an African American who was elected “Most Inspirational Bandsmen” in 1985.
• Colleen Nutter, the first female band member who was elected “Most Inspirational Bandsmen” in 1986.
• Pamela Bork, a female who was elected “Most Inspirational Bandsmen” in 1996. (As a side note, it is interesting that Ms. Bork expressed no issues with the alleged “sexualized culture" of the organization when she was receiving this award and during her no less than 16 year tenure thereafter, but only conveyed her alleged concerns after leaving the band in a disputed fashion).
• Erin Klingbeil, a female who was elected “Most Inspirational Bandsmen” in 1998.
• Amanda Howenstine, a female who was elected “Most Inspirational Bandsmen” in 2001.
• Wesley Clark, an African American and the only person in OSUMB history to be elected “Most Inspirational Bandsmen” twice. (2003, 2005).
• Aaron Bell, an African American who was elected “Most Inspirational Bandsmen” in 2006.
• Cara Ricci, a female who was elected “Most Inspirational Bandsmen” in 2008.
• 53 woman who have held the position of Head Manager, Head Secretary, and Head Librarian within the organization.
• The uncountable list of women and minority “I” dotters.
• The uncountable list of women, minority, and LGBT Squad Leaders and Assistant Squad Leaders that have been in the band over the past forty years.
Finally, there is Kristine Tikson, who I believe represents the essence of what the Ohio State University Marching Band is all about. Kristine originally enrolled at the Ohio State University in 1979, majoring in Accounting. Graduating Summa Cum Laude in 1982, Kristine spent the next 28 years of her life pursing her career, but always regretted not having tried out for the band. In 2010, Kristine retired at 48 years old and decided to pursue her dream yet again. Although she had been a clarinet player originally, she began taking lessons, practicing the mellophone and attending summer sessions in order to prepare for what would certainly be a rigorous tryout.
Early on that following summer, however, disaster struck, and an MCL injury would make it impossible for her to audition. This wouldn’t stop Kristine, however, who instead of quitting, continued attending summer sessions, simply to watch and learn. After allowing her body to recover, Kristine started an intense training regimen, which included intense cardio, interval cardio, muscle strengthening exercises, and daily music practices. In order to gain playing and marching experience, Kristine enrolled in Spring Athletic Band and actively performed at the Ohio State Spring Football Game. After attending summer sessions through the summer of 2011, Kristine finally tried out, only to be cut.
Initially planning not to try out again, Kristine changed her mind, crediting the “positive feedback” she received from the directors and some students on “Make the Band Night.” Using this positive energy, Kristine pushed herself even harder, and was given a spot within the 2012 band. When asked about her experience, Kristine stated “The members of the band have accepted me and have not made a big deal of my age difference. They provide me with daily inspiration – they are so dedicated and talented. Membership in the OSUMB has been rewarding in so many ways. I consider it an honor and a privilege to wear the uniform.” Because of her inspiring story and her dedication to core principles of the Ohio State University Marching Band, Kristine became the only first year OSUMB member to ever be elected “Most Inspirational Bandsmen” by her fellow peers. It should be noted that Director Jonathan Waters presented that award.
It is stories like these, and many others that are now being shared all over the social platform, that the University’s quick-to-act and ill-timed report acted to suppress. Certainly, if one were to look at the University’s report in a bubble, with no knowledge of the OSUMB, its history, its values, its leadership, or its traditions, one could be outraged, but to do so would create such an injustice against the thousands of past and present members who know otherwise. We have no choice but to act now, united and strong.
“Membership in the OSUMB has been rewarding in so many ways. I consider it an honor and a privilege to wear the uniform.”
This is a sentiment that is reflected by most current and past members of the Ohio State University Marching Band, not a select few with individual axes to grind and personal vendettas (those whom the University conveniently chose to interview). This is an organization that has been dedicated to treating everyone equally, whether they be male, female, gay, straight, transsexual, white, or minority. It has been one to honor, rather than discriminate against those who are different, it has always strived to expand its horizons and it has frequently celebrated that diversity and expansion.
For example, just this past season, the TBDBITL Alumni dedicated part of their halftime show to celebrating “40 Years of Women in the Band.” The relevant portion of the show, which was performed on September 7, 2013, can be seen at, and featured the five “pioneer” women who took that first step of removing a long standing tradition of TBDBITL being an all-male institution. The band, in honor of these women, played Hang on Sloopy. Surely these are not the actions of an organization that would celebrate a culture of discrimination or sexual harassment.
When watching the performance, the announcer says something which rang true forty years ago and rings true now, “Change is not easy!” Change is never easy, and when a group as large as the Ohio State University Marching Band has been practicing a certain way and following certain traditions for decades, any attempts to change such will be met a fiery resistance like none other. On one hand, it is that dedication and heart that has made TBDBITL what it is. On the other, it means that things cannot change overnight, and those who seek that change must have the courage and strength of a thousand warriors. Only one who has been deeply rooted in that tradition can truly understand the intricacies and difficulties of making those changes which are necessary to make the organization a better place for all students.
There is no man or woman more qualified to make that stand than Jonathan Waters himself. As a member of the band from 1995-1999, as Graduate Assistant Director from 2001-2002, as the Assistant Director from 2002-2011, and as Director from 2012-2014, Jonathan has dedicated his career to instituting that change when given the opportunity.
Below is a short, non-exhaustive list, of just some of the things Jonathan Waters has done in his 21 months as director to ensure change, and some of the things the University Report Seriously Misconstrues:
• As Director, Jonathan Waters did, in fact, prohibit the consumption of alcohol while attending any away games. This topic is completely neglected in the report, and instead, the University completely relies on the statement of Pam Bork, who claims to have left the band because of alleged alcohol abuse and sexual conduct. Instead of interviewing others, the University takes her statements as true, and neglects to entertain the notion that there is quite possibly an ulterior motive for her conveniently timed statements, considering she had no public complaints about the band during the prior 18 years she “volunteered” there, or when she received her “Most Inspirational Bandsman” award. Had the University elected to engage in a more thorough and proper investigation, or given other band members an opportunity to be heard, it would have discovered that Mr. Waters did, in fact, institute policies to protect against these issues.
• As Director, Jonathan Waters did, in fact, end “Midnight Ramp” in June 2014, and addressed it with squad leaders prior to that. While the University’s report conveys “Midnight Ramp” as an event where students were forced to march down the ramp in their underwear, had the University interviewed more aggregate sample of members, it would have learned two things. First, no student was forced to participate in any activity. If a student did not want to do it, they were not required. Second, “Underwear” was a figurative term. For some, underwear meant a pair of gym shorts and a tee shirt. For others it was, well….a birthday suit. A student specifically described (inaccurately so) in the University report as having an offensive nickname recently told the media, “I certainly never witnessed or experienced pressure from anybody in the band to do anything I was not comfortable with at all…It's a tradition meant to welcome people into the family and into the band. I did my first Midnight Ramp wearing a tank top and shorts that provided full coverage.” Her interview can be seen here:
Even Assistant Director Smith stated, “some students wore pajamas or shorts instead of underwear.” This serves as clear evidence that no one was forced to do anything. Nonetheless, in the face of years of tradition, Director Waters ordered such an event ended effective this coming year. (As a side note, the University’s report curiously fails to investigate whether other University officials “knew, or should have known” of “Midnight Ramp”, but simply places the blame solely on Mr. Waters. It is possible that a more thorough investigation of these concerns could leave the University with an egg on its face?).
• As Director, Jonathan Waters did, in fact, inform students that they needed to “go easy on the nicknames” and, as an Assistant Director, Mr. Waters actually disciplined a student for a highly offensive nickname. The University presents the thought that Mr. Waters had the authority to ban “nicknames” all together, but such would be ignorant of the fact that the nicknames were given from students to students outside of band, and such a policy would have no effect on the students in that situation. All Mr. Waters could do was try to control their use inside and outside of band, but as the report indicated, most offensive nicknames were kept away from band leadership. The report also embarrassingly misstates facts regarding these nicknames. While it speaks of “Jewboobs” being a nickname given to a jewish girl with big boobs, the University never actually made an effort to interview the woman who was given that name. Once interviewed by the media, she explained her nickname was actually “Joobs”, the jewish faith had nothing to do with it, and she consented to the nickname. She said investigators never contacted her and, if they had done so, she would have set the record straight. Her interview can be seen here:
• As Director, Jonathan Waters removed the term “Rookie” and replaced it with “First Year Member” in an effort to ensure that no student felt demeaned by the term.
• As a Director, Jonathan Waters ended the publication of the so called “Trip Tic.” This was another long standing tradition that Mr. Waters eliminated virtually as soon as he became director. The fact that the University report holds it against him for knowing of its existence when he ended its publication at the beginning of his reign is somewhat nonsensical. To quote one band member not interviewed by the University, “When he became director it was ended very forcefully.”
• As Director, Jonathan Waters had speakers come in to talk about alcohol and to discuss discrimination against women. This occurred during the 2013 season and was completely absent from the University report. Had the University interviewed additional students from that season, it likely would have discovered such.
• The University report publishes a “2006 Unofficial Songbook” as evidence that Jonathan Waters failed to take steps necessary to stop a sexualized culture, but failed to interview any reliable students regarding when and how often the book was referred to, or whether it was ever present at band functions. It also fails entirely to account for the fact that, by its own credits, it is created by students, for students. It also draws attention away from the fact that its newest “version” is eight years old, six years prior to Mr. Waters being named director, and there is no indication that leadership played any role in its creation. Had the University interviewed a larger collection of members, it would have been revealed that, anytime such publication was found by leadership, past and present, it was immediately confiscated, the student disciplined, and the document destroyed.
In essence, when the University chose to conduct its report at a time when so many individuals were not available and in a fashion that was designed to act quickly at the expense of thoroughness, the opinions of so many, including some un-interviewed persons who were actually represented in said report, had their stories of positivity, enthusiasm and “daily inspiration” silenced. Even if you take these few possibly misrepresented “worst cases” as true, the University cannot hide behind the fact that, these individuals and now hundreds, if not thousands of others, make it clear that now Former Director Jonathan Waters was actively taking steps to correct situations.
We, past and present members of the OSUMB, are a family. That is what we asked for, and that is promised each other, maybe not through an oath, maybe not in writing, but through our hard work and dedication to the same goals. We are committed to our music, our marching, our traditions, and to each other, and when one who we have so believed in and has been with us on that path for almost twenty years is shot down, mutilated, and embarrassed, in the blink of an eye, without due process, and without even the most remedial efforts to interview the very subjects of some of the allegations, we must stand up to defend him.
Interestingly enough, this is not the first time Ohio State’s new president has engaged upon such a quick-to-act hiring/firing path. He has already been forced to apologize to one prior institution for the sudden hiring, firing, and rehiring of a dean “without consulting senior faculty early enough or often enough”, and now it appears he may have done it again. While last time, he claimed to have “learned a painful lesson”, it seems to be more and more apparent that the lesson wasn’t strong enough. His story can be found here: It’s time to make a stand.
Jonathan Waters, you’ve been a wonderful leader, and brought about much needed change. You are an inspiration to us all, and we will not let you be the scapegoat for our actions, inactions, or misdeeds, whatever they may be.
O' Captain my Captain…….WB
Damian R. Sheets
T Row 2002-2003.

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