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Meet the Glassmen, Toledo's drum and bugle corps.
The group's 135 young members, some from other countries including Germany and Japan, have twirled, tapped, and trumpeted their way into their fans - and some judges' - hearts.
Hours before hosting its 10th annual All-Star Review competition two weeks ago that drew about 3,500 people to the University of Toledo Glass Bowl for performances from nine corps, the Glassmen hosted a free clinic for about 500 high school students. Visitors came from various states, including Kentucky and Florida.
Brandae Knepper, 16, attended the clinic. A bass drum and mellophone player at Wauseon High School, she is thinking about trying out for the corps.
"I thought the performance was breathtaking," she said. "I'd never been to a show like that."
Lined up in a crisp arc with a high school student on either side, horn players struck a full-sounding chord while the drumline played and color guard members twirled their flags in unison, flashing blue, red, silver, black, and gold. Near the stadium's entrance, alumni gathered in a tent, and a trailer boasted memorabilia such as Glassmen clothing and CDs.
It's a big operation.
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Hundreds of 14 to 22-year-olds try out each year, and those selected start practicing in the winter for the following summer tour during which the corps vies with other corps to qualify for the Drum Corps International World Championships.
The group employs three full-time workers and 30 to 40 instructional staff, some of whom are paid. Dozens of volunteers donate their time to the organization each year. The group practices in Wauseon in the Old Chesterfield School.
Members of the 43-year-old group, whose original name was the Maumee Suns and became The Glassmen to reflect Toledo's history with the glass industry, are aware of their prestigious legacy. Almost every year since 1993, the Division I corps has been a finalist at the world championships, said Beth Schindel, a Glassmen alumna who now serves as the group's director of marketing and promotions.
Matt Hensley, who played the baritone for the corps before becoming one of its two drum majors, said he credits much of his personal development to lessons he learned with the group.
Mr. Hensley said the Glassmen are like a family.
"We pride in being a team," he said. "It takes every single one of us to make the corps work."
But such benefits come at a cost. Finding the stamina to endure a two-month summer tour with about 40 competitions requires a "very, very big commitment," said Mr. Hensley, 21, who hails from Brookville, Ohio.
Thom Brock lives in California, but he coordinated a trip to see his mother, who lives in the Toledo area, with the Glass Bowl competition, at which the Glassmen placed fourth.
Mr. Brock, 61, served as the corps' director and drum instructor for about five years in the 1960s. By the end of his tenure, after he had helped the group transition from marching in parades to the competitive field, the Glassmen had about 50 members - far more than the dozen they had when he started.
"Seeing them on the competition field for the first time . . . . it just made you cry," he said. "The enthusiasm was overwhelming there, by the kids. They loved it."
According to members, they still do. Mr. Hensley, a senior at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, said skills like time management he learned in the corps have proven valuable on and off the field.
"When you go to college, you're already capable of taking on some of those tasks," he said. "You're used to it already."
The group's eight-week tour ends Aug. 7 in Denver with the Drum Corps International championship. Along the way, the Glassmen will travel about 15,000 miles while performing in 33 competitive shows, five parades, and a variety of concerts.
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