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Marching Band is Conscientious Objector in Big Drum Arm’s Race

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by Con Chapman
Lifestyles Editor

drumBEAUFORT, Alabama.  This county seat in south central Alabama is coincidentally home to South Central Alabama State, a four-year college with an inferiority complex. “We’re up against five Division I programs in a football-mad state,” says Hiram Walberg, defensive coach for the Boll Weevils, the school’s athletic teams. “We barely make enough on concessions to pay our quarterback a living wage.”

With competition for in-state high-school talent tight and no budget for recruiting trips, Walberg and head coach Junior Jones III entered into an uneasy compromise with the natural prey of college football coaches everywhere—the school’s marching band director.

“I frankly don’t like to associate with that department,” Jones says, as he shifts uncomfortably on a chair in his plush office. “Some of those kids may be smart, but I suspect there’s a lot of weird going on in their corner of the stadium, otherwise why would the girls wear the same outfits as the boys?”

But Jones overcame his reservations and approved a transfer of $2,500 from his budget to that of marching band director Carroll McComb to finance the purchase of what is touted as the world’s largest glockenspiel, affectionately named “Big Glock.”

“Having a humongous instrument in your marching band is a tremendous feather in the director’s cap,” says Marshall Wheatley of Marching Band Monthly. “They already have a lot of feathers in those goofy comic opera hats they wear, so one more doesn’t matter.”

South Central is bucking tradition with its purchase, however. Historically, college marching bands that wanted notoriety bought drums such as Purdue’s Big Bass Drum or the University of Texas’s Big Bertha. Will a glockenspiel, historically the poor relation of marching bands with its nursery school sound, really have an impact on the school’s image?

“If I could get more money out of the football team, I would,” he laments. “Or we could go ironic, like the University of Chicago, which has the world’s largest kazoo.”

The effectiveness of large band instruments as recruiting tools has been established by peer-reviewed research involving double-blind tests. Two groups of high school athletes were placed on opposite sides of a football field at an Upper Peninsula State game in 1994, with a large drum playing on one side and a “placebo” band without a bass drum on the other. Athletes on the drumless side of the field signed fewer letters of intent than those on the side with the drum, which is also where the school’s dance team, the Lady Bullheads, was located.