Alumni in the News: Spring 2017

Marching with the Bluecoats gives members a diverse experience and after drum corps they move on to very varied lifestyles.  Here are three recent news articles featuring our very own!

Home is where the Kidney is (Dr. Lynsey Biondi: Baritone, 1994)

Dr. Biondi: 1994, current

After Lynsey’s marching days she turned to medicine and is now a sought-after specialist with Kidney transplants.  Recently featured in the Ft. Myers, Florida news, Dr. Biondi was recruited by the the Gulf Coast Medical Center to re-start their Kidney transplant program.  Lynsey married within the Bloo family to Craig Biondi (Soprano, 1994-1995). The two previously lived in the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania before “transplanting” the family south.

Lisa Stan King, right, from 1980

Park and Play! (Lisa Stan King, Color Guard, 1977-1980)

Lisa is the Executive Director of the Summit County Metroparks, being named to the position in September 2, 2015.  The Metroparks entertains 5 million visitors each year with over 14,000 acres of land managed, including parts of the popular Ohio & Erie Canal towpath recreation trail.  Earlier in April she was featured in Crain’s Cleveland Business.

Chris Barbaro in 1986

Music Matters (Chris Barbaro, Contra, 1985-1989)

Chris Barbaro is the director of bands for Amherst Exempted Village Schools west of Cleveland, Ohio.  His all brass marching band program is one of the strongest in the region, having made the state marching band finals now 15 years in a row.  Recently he was highlighted with other music teachers in the Elyria Chronicle extolling the virtues of music in the schools.



Alumni Feature: Brad Gessner

Brad Gessner, 1981-1982, Soprano/Drum Major; 1986-2008 Volunteer/Board Member

Brad Gessner joined the Bluecoats in 1981 marching soprano, and returned in 1982 as drum major. After aging out, he drove a bus for the Bluecoats, sold souvies, and occasionally cooked. He was also on the Bluecoats Board of Directors from 1986-2008, serving ten years as Chairman of the Board, and was inducted into the Bluecoats Hall of Fame in 1994.  Brad grew up in Austintown, Ohio where he currently resides. He is a lawyer who serves as Chief Counsel for the Summit County Prosecutor in Akron, Ohio. He and his wife Marylou have two children: Kylie is a student at Walsh University and plays the trumpet, and Conor is a snare drummer at Austintown Fitch High School. In his spare time, Brad likes painting, coaching youth soccer, and helping with band fundraising.


Alumni Feature: John Kowal

John Kowal: 1979-1983, ’85 Percussion

John Kowal became a Bluecoat in 1979 and marched in Bluecoats and Phantom Regiment until 1986, his age-out year. John is presently living just outside of Houston Texas, working as a mechanical engineer for the NASA Johnson Space Center. He has one twelve year old son and two step-daughters ages 19 and 23.

Q: How has Bluecoats impacted your life?
A: One of the things I’ve noticed about different organizations or institutions is the difference in the impact the people have had on me. The camaraderie in drum and bugle corps, Bluecoats, is that thirty years later I can go back and compare people from then and now; the members look different but they are still the same. It’s as if I stopped marching last year. I’ve been to events like High School reunions. The people are different and it feels strange. In Bluecoats, bonds last a lifetime. I always strive to do my best; perfection is my goal. I got my feet wet in college and applied that attitude for college which led directly to my employment with NASA. (more…)

Alumni Feature: Dawn Crandall Bradbury

Dawn Crandall Bradbury: 1995 Rook-Out – Brass

Being a one season age-out, affectionately known as a “rook out”, is challenging in its own right. Regardless of being a one year member or a super vet, the experience of being a Bluecoat is life long.  We feature this month 2000 Contra (tuba) “rook out” Dawn Crandall Bradbury.

Q: What was the show that made you want to be a Bluecoat?

A: I have loved the Bluecoats since the summer of 1995. Their Homefront: 1945 show touched me every time I saw it.  I decided that summer, that one day, I would be a part of this group. I was marching with a Division III corps, and one of our staff members had aged out with the Bluecoats. She talked about the organization very highly, but for me, it was always about the music. I loved the style, the jazz, the sound. (more…)

The Legend of the Silver Penny

Legend of the Silver Penny

Ken Fanti’s “change”

For members of the Bluecoats, your first real arrival into the ranks is when you are given your blue shoelace.  All winter long rookies see coins jangling around the necks of veterans on that blue shoelace.  This year the shoelace, and the change that comes with it, turns 25 years old.  Members of the Bluecoats who complete a season receive a silver penny from that year to wear on a blue shoe-string lanyard.  Like many corps traditions, it has evolved over the years.  But unlike tradition, it has served to tie together generations of Bluecoats who were not part of the original tradition.

Originally published in the Blue Review Newsletter in the Winter of 1995, Seth Hamstead (soprano, 1992-1996) wrote about how the tradition began:

Tradition. It binds people together and makes them feel like a part of a group. Such a simple concept, yet so hard to establish.  Who starts a tradition anyway?  When you ask a person why they are putting up a Christmas tree, they will usually respond that it is tradition.  Ask them who started that tradition, and they probably won’t have an answer.  Nobody knows the name of the first guy back in Germany to have the bright idea to put a live tree into his living room and decorate it with ornaments.  Little did he know that he started a tradition that would span centuries.

Back in June of 1992, in Normal, Illinois, the Bluecoats tried to start a tradition that would bind together the members of the corps and hopefully put an end to the large turnover in membership that the corps had experienced in the last couple of years, and they succeeded.

Scott Miller’s status as a rookie is easy to see with his bare shoelace during the season

A rather simple tradition, it is merely composed of a shoestring and a penny.  Now mind you that this is no ordinary penny, but a silver one, and the shoestring that it is placed on is blue (for obvious reasons). Each first year member, “rookie” as most of us affectionately call them, receives their shoestring after their first performance as a symbol of truly becoming a Bluecoat.  The penny must wait until later.  The pennies are given out on the day of Finals as a sign of the end of the season, a reward for surviving the game and a remembrance of the struggle to achieve excellence.  The penny is from the year that you have marched, and multiple year veterans start to have small collections that could only otherwise serve as change for a nickel.

Scott Miller’s original 1992 penny after the season

The penny means something different to every member that possesses one.  What does unify us is the love for the one cent piece and all that it stands for.  I look at mine and see the sweat that was given for an eleven and a half minute show, the feeling of forty thousand people giving you a standing ovation after you have just given them all that you can and wanting to give more, the close friendships that result from spending every second of the day for ten weeks with the same people that you would never have known otherwise, and the gym floors that were probably never intended to be used in the fashion that you used them.  Basically, I see my love for the activity and above all, my love for the corps that brought me to it. 

What do you see?

In 2012, Chris Miles, drum major in 1992 and one of those who started the tradition, reflected on how it all began:

Back in ’91 I remember, towards the end of the year, that the corps didn’t feel like one unit – not like the year before. I just remember wanting the same feeling I had in 1990. I wanted rookies to feel like they found a new home and for vets to always know they belong to a good one.

I had also noticed Cavaliers had a necklace with the gears on them: a gear per year marched. I thought it was awesome you could recognize them in and out of uniform. I also thought it was cool that they had something to recognize the years they marched. So at the end of the year, I kept trying to think of something that would be similar but distinctly different for us and might bring us together more. I discussed it with a few people after finals, but nothing really came of it.

Pennies under Nick Chastain’s uniform

As the winter camps continued I talked to Andy Bugosh (the other drum major that year) about my silly idea. I am glad I did because he helped a lot in making my idea a reality.

I just remember we wanted everything to be cheap. Otherwise, we would not be able to do it that year or make it something repeatable. I forget who exactly thought of the penny and the shoelace. I think it was Andy or possibly by committee in those late nights at Walsh but it wasn’t decided till late May or right before Hell Week.  The pennies even matched with the fact that we were doing Penny Lane that year. Hokey…yes, but nonetheless pleasant there was a reoccurring theme of sorts.  Andy came up with the idea on how to tie them, I’m pretty sure.

Andy and I decided to wait till the first show to hand them out, and to have rookies (along with everyone else) get their new penny at the end of the year. It didn’t make sense to us that people get a penny for a year they hadn’t marched yet. Also, if someone left early or came late, we didn’t have to worry as much about who did or didn’t get a penny. 

I am really happy that I helped to make a tradition in an organization that I truly love, and that tradition still happens today. I also want to thank Andy for all his help and anyone else who was a part of this that I didn’t mention.

By 1997 some members started to use links from the chain on the helmet to attach the pennies to the shoe-string.  Brian Carr, a 1997 soprano, said of the tradition: 

In ’97 some of the sopranos had helmet links, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a sanctioned thing… I have 3 links on my string, one for each penny, but I honestly don’t remember where they came from. I know there was no ceremony involved.

By 2002, the helmet chain link had been integrated into the tradition.  The pennies also turned into a seniority concept for procedures such as selecting your bus for summer tour.

As the international flavor of the corps increased during the early 2000’s, members from other nations would bring and use their nation’s penny equivalent to add to their chain. Other members, as a show of friendship, would also use those nation’s pennies on their chain.

Eric Humbert Story’s pennies

According to Eric Story, member from 2007-2011 (drum major his final three years), added:

In 2009, during pre-move ins at our membership leadership meetings, it was decided that you can wear all the foreign coins that were given to you on your shoelace with your penny/pennies, however the only stipulation was decided that you can have one link on your shoelace per year, and all coins you got for that year (should you wish to wear them all) go on the same link.

The use of a nickel, to represent five years as a member, began around 1998 but had been talked about as early as the first year in 1992.  Kelli Carlson, a guard member from 1994-1998, and staff in ’00 and ’01, remembered, “I got a nickel in 98… we joked about it long before.”  John David Mayo, a member in the mid 1990s and Drum Major in 1997 and 98, attributes the nickel part of the tradition to Mike “Canuck” Fanning.  This component still remains, as Eric Story continued, “[Today] you wear all 5 of your pennies, and on top of that wear your nickel.”

Pre-1992 alumni Mike Newsom, Michelle Newsom and Mark Newsom sport their pennies at the 2012 reunion

This tradition is not solely for those members from 1992 and beyond.  Alumni from any year now sport the pennies.  Those who come upon the tradition today are welcome to visit the corps’ souvenir booth, which has silver pennies available for members who marched prior to 1992.  All any alumni of the corps need to do is inquire at the souvie booth and obtain their respective pennies.

In 2017 those rookies to the Bluecoats will see a new piece of jangle added by members of the 2016 Bluecoats to the blue shoestring-lanyard: a championship ring. 

Alumni Feature: Celeste Cooning

Celeste Cooning (foreground)

Celeste Cooning: 1994-1998 Color Guard

Celeste, originally from Warsaw, Indiana, now calls Seattle, Washington her home. A graduate of Indiana University and University of Washington, Celeste is a visual artist working predominantly in cut paper. Her work has graced the Seattle-Tacoma Airport, Starbucks, Seattle’s Jackson Park, Zoe Juniper Dance Company, and Kinesis Project in NYC. (more…)

Alumni Feature: Kevin Armbruster

Kevin Armbruster: 1972-1980 Brass

Kevin Armbruster got his drum corps fix started before age 10, when the Marion Cadets sent their feeder corps to nearby town for a parade.  Kevin was hooked, and drum corps was in his future plans even at a young age.  Fortunately for the Bluecoats, Kevin’s family soon moved to Canton, Ohio and a lo and behold, new drum corps was starting up in 1972.  The McKinley High School band member jumped in with the corps playing soprano. (more…)

Past Directors react to Championship

Recently one of our Founders, Ralph McCauley, was delivered a surprise at his home: a 2016 Championship ring.  Daughter, and former member, Beth McCauley shared the news and pictures for alumni (see right).

While hundreds of young prospects hit the floor in November to audition for the 2017 Bluecoats.  We take this moment to look back at what our former directors had to say about winning a World Championship in 2016.

  • Ralph McCauley (one of the Founding Fathers and retired Canton Police Officer)
    It’s been a long, uphill struggle but we finally did it.  I am very happy and excited to be the 2016 DCI World Champs.  The thing that I am most proud of are all the members – from 1972 to the present time. I have seen this corps produce attorneys, police officers, doctors, dentists, teachers, drum corps staff and many more professionals who have become role models in their community. I’m proud of all our volunteers now and in the past, plus the original Ghetto Bug Gang (Ernie Adams, deceased) that I drove for several years, big white wall tires and all.  Love You All.
  • Kevin Armbruster (original member, former instructor)

    Kevin Armbruster, 1987

    2016 was a season dreams were made of for sure.  We never could have imagined the things being done on the field by the 2016 corps when we were marching in the ’70’s, but we always dreamed the big dream. Who would have ever thought a group that started with such humble beginnings, practicing in a Police Boys Club with the drum line in the two-lane bowling alley, would change the drum corps world with such a progressive, yet relatable, show. What other corps survived two folded seasons to reach the top of the mountain?

    In the ’80’s we struggled to rebuild and had peaks and valleys of success but always still had the big dream, although the dream seemed closer as the decade came to an end and we finally broke into finals in 1987.

    At last, the big dream came to life, courtesy of the 2016 version of the corps! I am one of many extremely proud alumni who was honored to be photo-bombed by the entire corps for the alumni photo at the Hall of Fame show…a very cool moment!

    Thank you to the 2016 World Champions for such a memorable summer!


  • Ted Swaldo, 1992

    Ted Swaldo (former director)
    In 1984 I had a dream that someday the Bluecoats would win the World Championship . Little did I know it would take 32 years . It was a great victory and judging from the crowd response the vast majority of spectators were rooting for us. We have fans all over the world.  

    This victory is a tribute to all the volunteer , alumni  and staff who helped build the Corps foundation .  And I can’t tell you how proud it makes me to see the Alumni perform !  It brings back a lot of great memories . I have seen the benefits of belonging to the Bluecoats and see what fine young adults all of them have become. I hope in some small way I contributed in their growth and maturity.  Together we defined the Bluecoats’ personality, image and value system – but it took Dave and Genevieve to make World Champion a reality .  They have guided this organization for the past 13 years and are responsible for today’s success. Dave’s management style and professionalism has built a staff that is the best in Drum Corps. Also, all of the marching members were extraordinary!  While us old timers bask in the glory of winning the Championship, let’s remember to thank the current director, his staff, the volunteers and current members for a remarkable season. I can’t wait to see what this design team offers next year.

    I personally want to thank Doug Thrower for his 25 years of service .  It is hard to believe he wrote this years show and the Beatle’s show. That exemplifies the growth of this organization.

    Go Blooooooo. 


  • Larry Hershman, 1988

    Larry Hershman (Program Coordinator)
    In addition to congratulating this year’s staff and membership, there are a few other acknowledgements from me.  First to the people who marched 86/87, thank you!  You drove the transition from hometown corps to the national recognition.  Second, to the people who didn’t leave the corps after 1999 and marched in 2000, thank you!  Your dedication set the stage for what finally happened this year.  And finally to Dave Glasgow who lived through 1999/2000 and learned from it.  Dave you were named DCI Director of the Year in 2014 and while that is something to be proud of, it falls short.  You are the Director of the Decade!


  • Bill Hamilton (Original member, Instructional Staff, former Director)
    A lot of history was going through my mind that night.  I remembered what it was like to have the goal of merely getting a corps on the field, to making the top 25 to making finals, to placing in the top 6.  When I was marching, we always thought there was something different about the corps at the top.  But now, 6 words….I remembered the struggles and disappointments of 79 and 83, and also the passion and commitment of our founders, Art, Tom and Ralph.  Standing next to the trophy was surreal and the impact probably hasn’t hit me yet.
  • david g
    David Glasgow (current Director)

    To think of where our organization has been in various points of our history, from folding twice to, to starting the 1984 season with a dozen some members in a gym playing basketball, to be where we are today is an amazing feeling.  It’s truly a testament to EVERYONE who helped us get here – all of our alumni, all of our former staff & volunteers and of course our outstanding group of people currently associated with the Bluecoats.  All that said – we are not done!  Plans for 2017 are already in motion!”