Becoming the 110
Senior Sophia Medvid, the field commander for Ohio University’s Marching 110, recalls the intimidating atmosphere of Rookie Week in her freshman year. Rookie Week, a weeklong training seminar acts as an introduction to the spirit of the 110 and prepares students to compete for a spot on the field.
New members receive training during Rookie Week, and it’s also a chance for them to get to know some of the band’s biggest rituals. During the week, new members have one day to themselves before playing together with returning members, who are known as “old men.”
As cheers roar and people haphazardly jump and bounce, new members are immediately thrown in to the energy of the 110. Eager first-year students passionately as yell cheers back and forth to returning members. Energy surges when returning members, with horns hidden behind their backs, close the chant by playing OU’s fight song “Stand Up and Cheer” to new members.
“Stand Up and Cheer” is one of the most prominent songs for the 110 and is blended into many of their traditions, such as chanting the well-known lyrics before a meal or as the buses arrive back on campus from an event.
Each year, new members arrive at training camp, bags and instruments in hand, ready to show their skills on the field. Medvid arrived late to her first Rookie Week because she was wrapping up commitments with her Drum Corps International group, Spirit of Atlanta, a nationally recognized touring ensemble. Medvid was exposed to competition immediately upon her arrival.
“We have alternates on the field, so when I got there everyone was saying, ‘Oh, you’ll have to be an alternate because you showed up late,”’ Medvid recalls.
But the first week jitters and competitive nature among first-year students soon transformed into the bond that Medvid has grown so fond of, a culture she loves.
Senior Zak Inak was exposed to a similar atmosphere and remembers bringing as much intensity to the field as possible in an attempt to give the best impression of himself to returning members. Inak says that the fun of being in the 110 has remained constant over his four years as a member.
Although competition to earn a spot on the field is wildly fierce, earning that spot entails the need for unity, Inak says. In order to create the abstract and picturesque formations on the field, each member of the band must march to the same beat with uniformed, sharp movements from head to toe.
After new members have a chance to hear the band, they take to the field like any other practice. That is the first opportunity, however, for new and returning members to march together. Standing on either side of the field, the band will be at a standstill position until hearing the cues from the field commander. The field commander will give commands, such as “mark time eight” or “forward eight,” with band members showing off their fundamentals, like keeping their legs elevated and perfecting sharp turns, until the two halves of the band have seamlessly merged into one.
110 Director Richard Suk says the event is one students look forward to throughout Rookie Week.
“Once they stop, they will all be intermeshed and then I say, ‘From now on, we are no longer rehearsing as freshmen and old men, we are rehearsing as the Marching 110,’” he says.
The merging of the block is a long-standing tradition, says Marc Zirille, a former trumpet player in the 110 under the direction of Suk. Marc, who met his wife Angela while in the 110 together, fondly recalls his memories from the late ’90s — from showing off fundamentals to coming together as one band.
“The field commander would yell out these commands and we would kind of bark at each other from across the field,” Marc says. “It was kind of intimidating and kind of fun all at the same time, but you knew at the end of that rehearsal that you were one band, so it was kind of cool.”
Another tradition that has been carried on with the help of both the students and the directors are the leather and wool jackets members sport around campus. Each pin and patch has been telling a story for decades. Incoming first-year members receive their jackets midway through training. At first, the jacket reps an iridescent white sleeve, impossible not to notice.
To allow for the new members to blend in with the band, Medvid describes a “right of passage,” which involves dirtying the jacket, also known as conditioning. “It’s kind of a unifying experience because that’s the point where you’re no longer a freshman and everyone else is old men, everyone is now one band,” she says.
Marc, who is currently the Johnstown High School band director, in Central Ohio, describes the importance of the jacket. For him, he remembers his jacket being dragged across the dirt by his squad leader, and he found comfort in knowing he would no longer stand out as a freshman.
Marc also mentioned that beside dirtying the jacket, it is tradition to leave a cigarette burn on the Ohio patch that is stitched on the jacket. “The burn should be close to where your hometown is,” he says.
Suk takes the tradition behind the jackets further by incorporating pins, which started after the band’s first Macy’s Day Parade performance in 2000. Pins are given for notable events of a particular season or for academic merit. Not only do the members line up in excitement to get their pins, it is also a great way to remember what each previous member of the band has done, Suk says.
The 110’s bond is just as strong off the field. Angela, who like Marc, went on to work with the Johnstown School System as the middle school band director, had the opportunity to watch the band come together from a different perspective during her time with the 110 from 1999 to 2000. Decades ago, students could not move into their assigned dorms until the school year was ready to begin. Angela remembers the returning student leaders showing up at the dorms, ready to help other members move in to their temporary room.
“I just remember parents being dumbfounded that they weren’t lifting a box or luggage, so it was very much like ‘Hey, we’re a family,’’’ Angela says. “I remember not thinking that college marching band would be like that.”
Marc also remembers traditions that took place off the field, like Clam Fest. This massive band-only party comes together for a night of socializing, taking time to get to know each other in a stress free environment alongside the savory aroma of a cookout. Inak adds that students can pay for clams and other foods, or simply go to socialize. For the Zirilles, that event was memorable because regardless of who you were, you were accepted.
“There was just a place for everybody, and you didn’t get judged for which group you were in because you were still in the band,” Angela says. “You’re in the Bible study group and you're in the Monday night football group and that’s okay. When we’re on the field together, we’re the 110.”
As the years have progressed, the members of the 110 continue to make an effort to create a memorable experience for each other. One tradition Inak has routinely participated in is Lake Day, which he describes as a day spent on the beach as a sort of welcome gathering for band members to get to know each other. Traditions like those are what contribute to the unity of the band, he says.
Suk is also fond of the efforts each section makes to get to know each other. For example, the trombone section hosts a spaghetti dinner and the percussion section gathers for a chili night.Those events are independently organized by students, who make the effort to get to know each other on their own.
Suk has also worked to maintain a “big and little” system to help new members assimilate as easily as possible and give them someone to look up to, ensuring the passion and energy is passed on. Members get their bigs and littles after Rookie Week, with the announcement made to the entire band in a celebratory manner. Members have even extended the tradition with cousins, aunts and an entire family tree, Suk says.
Inak says the time spent engaging with littles is valuable, as many underclassmen must focus on earning a spot on the field. Together, bigs and littles work on marching, playing and memorizing music in order to be the best on game day.
While the 110 is known to bring energy to any game or event, homecoming holds a special place in the hearts of many alumni and current band members. For the annual event, the band kicks their energy up a notch, Suk says, in hopes of impressing past members who come back for the show.
Reflecting on homecoming week, Angela recognizes many things have changed in her life as a teacher, but the spirit of the 110 has not. She appreciates returning for homecoming and seeing how the traditions put forth by the band members can become something largely impactful.
“You’re part of the 110, and these traditions are to make you feel like you’re a part of the team while you’re there,” Angela says. “But to realize that you’re a part of something huge, that 75-year-old man was in the band and he played ‘Ain't Been Good’ and he got a jacket, just like whoever else was in the band—that being a part of something larger than yourself, I think that’s what’s so important about those traditions.”
Marc shares a similar view to Angela, which he describes as a “proud papa” moment. For him, he looks forward to seeing the students he taught in the past, especially when running out during halftime to play a few tunes by his students’ side. While he is fond of the traditions his class created on and off the field, he appreciates that those rituals may change.
Change recently struck with an end to what has been a long line of male field commanders when Medvid was named OU’s first female field commander in the spring. A field commander is responsible for ensuring the band is marching with the same unified technique and keeping the band in the know, she says. While she knew she was always a strong candidate, she admits to feeling concerned because there had not been a female commander in the past.
Suk has seriously considered appointing female field commanders in years past, but says he would not choose a field commander based on gender, but on excellence. To the directors, it comes down to who will be best with the whistle.
While the Zirilles agree that Suk would have chosen a female field commander if the opportunity arose, they also feel that it may not have been accepted. Angela believes that over the years, the stereotype of a male simply yelling out commands has changed to a comprehensive position that includes more than being a figurehead.
Although Medvid already broke the streak of male field commanders, she intends to keep traditions, such as the dirtying of the varsity jackets. She would, however, like to see more engaging opportunities between new members and returning members. By establishing strong relationships and lasting friendships, Medvid plans to aid in the legacy of the 110.
“The number one thing that leads to a successful organization in any instance is having a strong brotherhood and a unified goal that you all work for, so that’s definitely a goal of mine, to have everyone on the same page and everyone respect each other and love the person next to them,” Medvid says. “That’s how you get to where you want to be—and that’s not just teaching you how to be a good marcher, that’s teaching you how to be a good person.”