It is a tradition of excellence recognized as one of the best in college football by ESPN. It is also one of the longest continued traditions in Ohio Stadium. It is the incomparable Script Ohio.
The Ohio State University Marching Band celebrates the 75th anniversary of Script Ohio this October. Fans in the ‘Shoe see a sousaphone player follow the drum major around Script Ohio until he breaks off the final “O,” struts out and takes a bow in front of 105,000 cheering fans.
Script Ohio is scribed by 225 band members, but only one person can claim the honor of dotting the “i” in Ohio.
“It’s a huge honor,” said Pete Droll, a fifth-year sousaphone player and squad leader. “Going through it, you just know the years of people who came and did it before you. It’s just such an overwhelming honor to just realize that you’re putting your name in that long, long list of people who have gotten that honor before you.”
While the marching band has performed Script Ohio for 75 years, a sousaphone player has only been dotting the “i” for 74. In 1936, the first year the band performed Script Ohio, trumpet player John Brungart dotted the “i.”
According to OSUMB’s website, it wasn’t until former director Eugene Weigel yelled in October 1937, “Hey, you! Switch places with the trumpet player in the dot!” that sousaphone player, Glen R. Johnson, started the tradition of a sousaphone player dotting the “i.”
Marching Band director Jon Woods has continued the tradition in his 38 years as band director, never considering changing the instrument to dot the “i.”
“Sousaphone is the best one to have,” Woods said. “On the field, it kind of represents a dot more than any other instrument, just the way physically it looks. It is just the perfect instrument to do that.”
For the sousaphone players, it is a tradition near and dear to their hearts. Young musicians see Script Ohio and hope to dot the “i” one day. This was the case for Ryan Wiens, a fifth-year band member and squad leader for the sousaphone section.
“I went to a game, I was really young, I don’t remember how old. Ohio State lost, the game was miserable,” Wiens said. “I saw the band do Script Ohio and saw the “i”-dotter, and I said, ‘I want to do that.'”
The “i”-dotting honor does not come quickly or easily. According to OSUMB’s website, to be eligible to dot the “i,” a sousaphone player must be a fourth-year in band. Among the fourth-year players, there is a ranking system based on how many pre-game Script Ohio’s the musician has performed.
The four alternates in the sousaphone section challenge for a spot in Script Ohio. Leading up to the fourth year, the incoming fourth-year members are ranked based on how many times the member is an alternate for home games, Droll said.
The student with the most Script Ohio performances has first pick as to which game he or she would like to do Script Ohio. The next student with the second most performances has the second pick, and the pattern continues until all shows are picked.
On average, Droll estimates that a typical sousaphone player performs 21 to 24 shows before dotting the “i.” Each year, there are about 10 to 12 Script Ohio’s performed, Droll said.
Most of the time, a sousaphone player gets only one or two chances to dot the “i,” Wiens said. However, Droll and Wiens were fortunate and both dotted the “i” three times each.
“That’s just nothing but luck,” Droll said. “We made the band with a small class so there were not as many fourth-years and quite a few home games last year. So we each got to do it three times.”
Droll and Wiens said the years’ previous “i”-dotting veterans taught them the strut and the bow. Yet, they admitted it is mostly improvised, similar to the first time it was ever done.
According to the OSUMB’s website, drum major Myron McKelvey finished leading the Script a few measures early. Johnson, in order to take up some time, did a strut to dot the “i” and bowed to the fans. The stadium roared with applause, and since then it has stuck as part of the tradition.
“When you are going out to dot the “i,” there is no script or count you have to do,” Droll said. “It is kind of up to your own interpretation. That being said, there are still certain areas you want to hit, like turn at the right time.”
For that lonely “i”-dotter, taking that strut is one of the most nerve-wracking and exciting feelings in a sousaphone player’s career, Droll and Wiens said.
“When you get to the bottom of the ‘o’ and meet up with the drum major and you are two measures away from starting the strut, it is so nerve-wracking.” Droll said. “But adrenaline takes over and you get out there, it’s all right.”
Only a sousaphone player can dot the “i” in Script Ohio. However, there have been several honorary “i”-dotters on the OSUMB’s Script Ohio, including comedian Bob Hope, former Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes, former OSU president Novice Fawcet, retired ticket director Robert Ries, and “Golden Bear” golfer Jack Nicklaus. The most recent guest “i” dotter was board of trustee member and donor to the university, Leslie Wexner.
No matter who you are, there is no doubt that dotting the “i” for Script Ohio is an honor and a connection that musicians will feel with OSU forever.
“Just to be part of a tradition of that magnitude is something incredible and surreal,” Wiens said. “Being in the moment was the coolest thing ever.”