In just the third competitive season after being officially formed in the winter of 1972, the Bluecoats were the talk of the town… and the nation. Operating in the lower division, known as Class A at the time, the Bluecoats were cleaning up. Newspapers were touting the corps as a “comer” ready to burst among the nation’s best. Out of 21 contests that summer, the corps won 10 and finished second four times. It was a remarkable rise for a young corps. At home the corps notched a Double Crown, winning the Ohio state VFW and American Legion championships.
While pushing themselves competitively, the corps also continued to serve as Stark County’s Ambassadors of good will, performing at the Hall of Fame Game halftime and sending a uniformed, honor guard to greet the United States Olympic Swim Team that came to town that summer before heading to the games in Montreal. The Men’s team scored 34 medals, twice as many as the next closest team.
The high hopes that had accompanied this season though were dashed as the team neared the finish line. The corps was scheduled to make its first appearance at DCI Championship Week, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The excitement of heading to the birthplace of the nation on its Bicentennial Celebrations for its Finals Week debut was squashed by a bug. Literally. In the summer of 1976, Legionnaires Disease had broken out in the Philadelphia area and caused several deaths. The corps management made the tremendously hard decision to pull the plug on the season.
Long before the member Health and Wellness policies were implemented throughout the activity, the Bluecoats were looking out for their own. Director Tom Jakmides told the Canton Repository, “No Championship is worth endangering the health of corps members.” The corps would finally make it’s Finals Week debut in 1977 in Denver, Colorado. But the 1976 was as memorable as the nation’s celebrations in the Bicentennial year of 1976.
Note: Thanks to alumnus Pete Reynolds, who donated a scrapbook of the 1970s and 1980s and the images for this story.