Going to Nationals

Going to nationals with Norwin Band 1982

Going to Bands of America (BOA) Nationals was a life-long dream for me. This dream was planted in me by LJ Hancock at Norwin H.S. during the 1980-82 seasons. My desire has been to pass on to my students the lessons that I learned in those years.

Genesis of a dream

I was a member of Norwin Marching Band from 1980 – 1982. We competed frequently and won often. Norwin began competing with Marching Bands of America (MBA) in 1979 and had done well. So, when I joined in 1980 they were already on their way to making a name for themselves on the national scene. (MBA was the predecessor to BOA.)

Norwin competed in two MBA Regionals in ’80 and won them both. As the season progressed, we heard that MBA had a Grand National Championship and we wanted to go. Our director, LJ Hancock, had other plans. He wasn’t taking us, yet.

You plan the work and then work the plan. Don’t let anyone knock you off of your path.


We had a ton of momentum coming out of the 1980 season and knew we could win Nationals. There was a trophy table in the band room that we used for our current season awards. We had around 40 trophies on that table. One day, a band-member took little slips of paper and wrote “Nationals” on each one. Then they stuck those slips of paper on top of every trophy.

We were like a dog straining on the leash and we were being held at bay by our director. LJ eventually announced that we would attend Nationals in the 1981 season. The seniors in the band weren’t happy, but the rest of us were elated!

Momentum is everything.

Nationals trip #1

The 1981 season saw us competing at regionals in Ohio and Virginia. We were bested by Chesterton in Ohio, but won the Virginia Regional. (It was while we were in Virginia that I was exposed to the James Madison University Band. This is where I ended up going to college.)

We arrived in Johnson City, Tennessee for MBA Nationals filled with confidence. We would be up against Chesterton again, but were confident that no one could outperform us twice in a year. But they did. And that was a gut punch.

Just because you’re hungry, it doesn’t mean you’re the best.

Summer Nationals

We didn’t come in 2nd often and we didn’t like it. MBA was hosting summer nationals in June and we saw this as an opportunity to show everyone that we were the best. This would require a TON of extra practices, fundraising and enormous commitment from everyone involved. But, we wanted to go and we worked our tails off to perfect the ‘show’.

The trip to Wisconsin wasn’t a fairy tale, at times it was more like a nightmare. I remember that many students got sick. Still not sure what happened. Maybe food poisoning? On the up side, We stayed in dorm rooms, which made us feel like we were royalty. Normally we stayed in a gym at a local school.

It was on this trip that we were all introduced to the Wisconsin mosquito. Those buggers were relentless. Ms. Cummerick, who worked with the colorguard, was spraying everyone with repellent. At one point I looked at my shoulder and noticed a mosquito had landed on my uniform. He bit right through that thick uniform! I thought WE were persistent and hungry, but we had nothing on those mosquitoes.

We performed our hearts out and came in 2nd again. We lost this championship by .02 of a point to a band we had never heard of before, Herscher.

Sometimes your best just isn’t good enough.


Coming up short for a second time on the National level sent shockwaves through the group. Tears were flowing and some of us were angry. Much of that anger was directed at the judging panel.

I was blessed with a great friend named Carl. Carl was a fellow trumpet player and a year older than me. This was the end of the road for his marching band experience. Carl had a way of helping me to see the bigger picture. His reaction to the results was, “They must be really good!”.

I turned that over in my head. I knew that I had performed my heart out. There was no way I could have pushed harder. I also knew that I had consistently practiced with high intensity. It was then that I knew what to do. I walked over, found a Herscher band member, looked him in the eye and said, “You guys must be incredible, because I know we were awesome!”. I can still see the look of shock on that kid’s face.

If you have worked consistently and performed at your peak but still missed the mark, suck it up and hold your head high! Don’t make excuses.

Eye of the tiger

Rocky movie music was integral to our marching band shows. We played “Going the Distance” as our closer. When Rocky III hit the theaters in 1982 we were all singing the Survivor Hit, “Eye of the Tiger”. Nothing could better describe our ’82 season. We had our eyes set on what we wanted and we were going to get it!

No one could touch us that year. I remember competing at a local show and destroying everyone. But, what impressed me most was the reaction of our director, LJ. He gathered us together after our performance so he could talk to us.

He tore us apart! We hadn’t performed up to our standards and he was furious. He told us that we were going to win that show by a large margin, but he didn’t care. We could have done a better job, so in his eyes we didn’t win or succeed at anything that day.

You can win and still lose. Winning isn’t the goal, it’s the by-product. Excellence is the goal!

Winning’s aftermath

We traveled to Johnson City Tennessee for Nationals and won. We beat our previous rival, Chesterton, by more than 3 points. The hours of work had paid off. We were the best of the best!

We loaded the buses to go home with the nationals travel trophy in the aisle of the ‘senior’ bus. LJ was seated in the front and I was close enough to hear some of the conversation surrounding him.

Someone asked, “Which band was your favorite?”. Obviously they expected him to say that this year’s band was his favorite. We had won the coveted MBA Nationals trophy. He said that he preferred last year’s band. My recollection is that he said, “Last year’s band always gave everything they had in each performance. This year’s band knew how much they needed to do to win, and that is what they gave.”

Trophies don’t mean as much when they’re easily won.


Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

Winston S. Churchill

Shortly after these experiences, my school counselor asked me what I wanted to do after graduation. He thought I should go into electronics. I had taken our school’s electronics class and done well. He thought that that would be a good fit for me.

I indicated a desire to become a band director. The Norwin experience under the direction of LJ Hancock had left an indelible mark on me. I wanted to pass that experience on. My counselor told me it was a bad idea and that I wouldn’t make much money.

There is a whole lot more to life than making money!


14 responses to “Going to Nationals”

  1. Wow!! I really had a hard time reading without tearing up🎵 thank you for the memories you wrote out!! Very special time .

  2. Hello Eric! THANKS for awakening memories that had been in storage for quite some time. I was with the band at Whitewater, as was my wife. (I had consulted briefly with Mike Blazer on the wonderful drumline he developed.) We shared the exhilaration of a great performance as well as the heartbreak of the placement. Quite obviously, I’ll never forget it. It was – and shall remain – one of the fulfilling experiences of my life.

  3. Eric,
    What a flood of memories your post brought back! As a member of the Band that graduated in 1982 I did not get to share in the ultimate victory that you did, but the experience was transformative anyway.The members of the drumline took solace in getting the “Best Percussion” award at both Grand Nationals in Johnson City and Summer Nationals in Whitewater. I still take those life lessons that L.J and “Blaze” (percussion instructor Mike Blazer) taught us through music and try to pass them on to my own students.
    And = Mike Kumer – Thank you for the kind words about that great drumline we had developed! And thank you for encouraging me to continue my music studies. Your guidance while Dean of the music school at Duquesne University will never be forgotten!

    • Hi Jay! Thanks for contributing to Eric’s post. The edition of the Norwin drumline in which you marched was a CHAMPION! Mike Blazer did a sensational job of writing and training, while the members clearly combined talent and hard work to produce one of the greatest lines of that epoch. You have every reason to feel a burst of pride as a marching member. I hope you are well and enjoying a richly fulfilling life. Warm regards and all best wishes!

  4. This was absolutely wonderful…Just didn’t seem possible when Terry told me it had been 41 years….Loved every minute of those years, the trips, the memories…….Will always be able to say,
    Thank, Eric

  5. Terrific Eric! This deserves better than just terrific, but I don’t have a thesaurus around. Amazing article about some very amazing people and times.

  6. Eric, what a terrific article!! Thank you for providing this collection of wonderful memories. Great words of wisdom for your current students; make excellence the goal and winning will follow. It’s amazing looking back and to think we were children, about 15-18 years old, and to realize what can be achieved with the right direction, motivation, perseverance and attitude. I wish you and all of your students the very best on your pursuit of excellence.

  7. Thanks for the excellent reflections on your youth! Adolescence is an incredibly important time in one’s development. If it is properly influenced, it can lead to an adulthood of growth, contribution and fulfilment. If not, well… everyone knows how that can go. I can relate to a lot of this, although not to competing at the highest level more than once. What rings truest for me is the notion that once the joy of performing at a high level gets into your blood, it can create a burning desire … perhaps destiny … to find ways to keep doing this throughout your life. And to pass on that experience to others. Although music and and marching arts are not a part of my present, the lessons imparted in High School have stayed with me throughout my life. They continue to influence me. The very words you used, like those of your High School Band Director, continue to push me now. And that is not a small thing in one’s life.

  8. Hi Eric,
    I found this on the Alumni Centennial Celebration Facebook post. Thank you for this trip down memory lane. I graduated in 1982 and have so many great memories of my time in the Norwin Band.

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