Chippewa Herald * October 25, 2006   Visitor
  Counter by Digits

Former members are the unsung heroes of the Marching Cardinals

by Tom Arneberg, Community Columnist

Question: What do you get when you cram 200 excited teenagers into a school gym and turn out the lights for eight hours?

Answer: Total silence!

No, that's not some kind of lame joke. It's the amazing reality of the Chi-Hi Marching Cardinals while on a road trip.

I got to experience it first-hand last weekend as an "embedded reporter" (also known as "parent chaperone with a camera") with the band as they traveled to state marching-band competition at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

I've heard many times that the band just had "good kids." But there's more to it than that. I think kids rise to the level that their leaders expect of them -- and these band leaders expect a lot.

Who are the band leaders? Everyone knows about the directors, Brian Collicot and Andrei Strizek. They are the ones who set the agenda for the band, speak at the concerts, are there for parent-teacher conferences, and are interviewed for television and newspapers.

But there is a whole second tier of band leadership that I wasn't fully aware of until my first road trip with the band. These people are called "staff," and they serve with a love and dedication that is palpable.

The staff this year consists of 16 young people, most of whom are former Marching Cardinals. About ten of them usually give up their weekends for road trips like Whitewater.

Some of the staff members are themselves music students, usually at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Some of them get credit for student teaching with the Chi-Hi band.

But many of them do it just for the love of the Marching Cardinals. Todd Bowe, a 1994 Chi-Hi graduate, is celebrating his 13th year on the marching band staff. Even though he now works as an engineer for Andersen Windows in Bayport, Minnesota, he just can't tear himself away from the marching band. In fact, he decided to remain in Chippewa Falls and endure the daily commute to Minnesota partly so he could be closer to help the marching band in their evening and weekend rehearsals. Todd is the "head coach" of the band's percussion section.

One of Todd's good friends is fellow staff member Erik Paulson, known affectionately by the kids as "Pokey." He is a 1995 Chi-Hi graduate, one year behind Todd. Pokey's often threatens Todd: "If you ever quit, I'll stay two more years so I can beat you."

Pokey, a PhD student in Computer Science at UW-Madison, is the de facto drill sergeant of the marching band. The first time I remember seeing him was at the visitation in the gym for the Greenhalghs after the crash last year. He was the one in the stands who called out orders and directed the kids through their most poignant performance ever.

I knew then that he was a "take charge" guy. This was confirmed by his quaint little speech last Sunday morning. Picture a gym full of sleeping musicians, pitch black and totally quiet. Suddenly lights flood the room and Pokey barks out his orders:

"GOOD MORNING, MARCHING CARDINALS! You are in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. It is now 7:00 a.m., five hours after you went to sleep. You have exactly 45 minutes to get up, get dressed, pack your things, load the bus, and eat breakfast. That is plenty of time."

"At 7:45, you will have 15 minutes to clean up. Saxophones, you are in charge of the boys' gym. You will not board the bus until your section leader Ryan McDowell says you're done. Flutes, you have have the girls' gym. Trumpets, the boys' locker room..."

The list went on. Everyone knew exactly what they needed to do, and everyone did what was expected of them. An hour later, we were all sitting on the bus, ready to go. Amazing.

It's that kind of discipline that leads to award-winning performances. Our kids did a great job at the competition, despite some adverse conditions.

The morning drizzle they marched through during practice turned to rain by Saturday afternoon. This meant that the afternoon practice had to be held indoors. That might have cramped their style a bit, but it gave staff and chaperones a special treat of hearing the entire band in a small school cafeteria, producing an incredible wall of sound.

Unfortunately, the rain continued unabated, forcing that evening's competition indoors for the final AAAA division. The contest itself felt anticlimactic, since only a few lucky people got to actually see our band due to the size and layout of the fieldhouse.

But the Marching Cardinals did a great job, finishing fifth, with a score of 85.35 -- their best showing all year! They beat sixth place by a whopping 9 points, but missed fourth by only 0.1 points, and were just 0.8 points short of last year's third place.

We are very proud of our marching band, of their artistry, musicianship, dedication, discipline, and their directors. And now we have a new appreciation for the unsung heroes of the band -- the staff.

( See photos of our band trip.)


You can reach Tom at

Links: [Tom's column archives] | [] | [] |

This page is maintained by Tom Arneberg (
(Last modified: $Date: 2006/10/24 17:21:27 $)