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City schools host prestigious drum corps

This past week, the Russellville City School System played host to a major league group, even though these performers had nothing to do with baseball.

The Boston Crusaders, a prestigious drum corps with Drum Corps International (DCI), called the Russellville schools’ campus their home from Thursday to Saturday on their way to the DCI North Alabama competition in Huntsville Saturday night.

DCI is known as “marching music’s major leagues” because being part of one of the DCI drum corps is one of the highest levels in the marching band community.

“This is like the NFL for band kids,” RHS Marching Hundred associate band director Jeremy Willis said.

“It is the professional aspect of what these kids do all throughout high school and college, so it was an honor for our school system to host such a prestigious group.”

Willis said the Russellville school system has hosted other drum corps in the past and garnered quite a name for being a prime spot for passing drum corps to rest and rehearse.

“The tour director for the Boston Crusaders actually stayed on our campus with a different drum corps a few years ago,” Willis said.

“When she found out the Crusaders would be coming through Alabama on the way to their show in Huntsville, she said they absolutely had to stay here because of the great experience she had the last time and because of what we could offer them.”

Being on tour all summer long and not having a permanent place to call “home,” drum corps are usually at the mercy of whatever host site is available to them.

Willis said as far as school campuses go, Russellville was able to offer plenty of amenities that made it a great place for the Crusaders to call “home” for a few days.

“At Russellville, we have multiple athletic fields that gave each section of the Crusaders an adequate place to rehearse where they weren’t crowded or distracted by the other sections,” he said.

“The members of the drum corps were also able to sleep in the school gym where they had access to showers and a secure place to stay and the staff stayed at the Fine Arts building where they had the same privileges.

“They have a food truck where their meals are prepared, but for one of their meals, they were able to eat in the air conditioning at the RES cafeteria, which is a rare occasion for drum corps kids.”

Willis said he heard nothing but positive feedback from the members of the Crusaders during their stay in Russellville.

“For many of these people, this is their first time in Alabama and the first time they’re experiencing this state for themselves and not getting a skewed perception from Hollywood or other outlets,” he said.

“They were all very impressed with the hospitality they received and the facilities we have, and I think that speaks highly of our school system and leadership.

“We truly appreciate Superintendent Rex Mayfield and the rest of the administrators for allowing the Crusaders to use our campus.”

But Willis said the Crusaders’ visit wasn’t just a great opportunity to show off the school system as a whole – it was also a great opportunity for the RHS band program to observe a World Class DCI group firsthand.

“For most of the kids in our band program, they have heard us talk about DCI and seen videos, but they’ve never seen how it actually works,” he said.

“We had a good group of students who came to observe rehearsals and really see the behind-the-scenes operations of DCI and what it takes to be part of it.

“I think it really inspired some of them to pursue a spot on one of the drum corps and gave them some great goals to aspire to.”

And with the Marching Hundred getting ready to work on their upcoming season, Willis said it didn’t hurt for the band’s leadership to observe a professional group as well.

“I think it was just as beneficial for myself as well as band director Gary McNutt and assistant director Scott Stephenson to hear and watch their staff and see how they do things from the leadership end,” he said.

“All in all, I think this was a great experience for everyone involved.”