by Bob Kennedy, in memory of Neil O. Connolly
This article was originally published in the August 10, 2007 edition of Drum Corps World (Volume 36, Number 10).
The 1973 season was one very difficult, yet special year in the 67-year history of the Boston Crusaders Drum & Bugle Corps. To tell the story of this one season is a feat in itself, for many decades have passed us by and the memories seemingly blend together as one.
The Boston Crusaders were hit by two major catastrophes two years before the 1973 season. These two catastrophes almost destroyed any idea of the Crusaders putting a corps together for the 1973 season.
First, in the fall of 1971 the Old Post, the Crusaders’ home, burned to the ground, destroying much of their equipment, uniforms, instruments, trophies, memorabilia and many business records. The equipment could eventually be replaced, but the loss of the Old Post was absolutely devastating.
A retrofitted firehouse on River Street, in the Lower Mills section of Dorchester, MA, it was the Crusaders’ home for more than a decade; it was the center of their universe. It’s where they gathered, whether they had practice or not. It was their home away from home.
The thought was, no longer did the Crusaders have a sure place to practice on Sunday afternoons, no longer did the Crusaders have a place to store the equipment and uniforms, no longer did the members have a place to just kick back, hang around and simply relax.
The corps was temporarily given, rent-free, the Salvation Army building in Quincy, MA, by its owner, Cosmo Mignosa. His son Paul was a member of corps.
Later that year, the Crusaders participated in a parade down River Street in Lower Mills. As the corps marched past the empty parking lot where the Old Post once stood, the members came to a halt that stopped the parade. With the command of “left face,” members turned toward the Old Post spot, removed their shakos and sang the corps song, GIANT. The corps then proceeded down the street playing Conquest and the parade resumed.
Second, in 1972 the Crusaders lost their long-running relationship with VFW Post #8699 from Lower Mills, due to their relationship with the newly-formed Drum Corps International. The corps’ relationship with DCI was in direct conflict with the VFW organization.
The first DCI Championships were held at Warhawk Stadium in Whitewater, WI. The Boston Crusaders, one of the founding members, could not attend due to financial hardships of the past season. The decision not to participate in the first year of DCI was frowned upon by the DCI organizers, although they never quite understood the hardship of a self-funded, inner-city drum corps, which was the makeup of the Crusaders at that time.
Labor Day, September 2, 1972 the corps had to move out of the Salvation Army. The Boston Crusaders were now homeless. They were a gypsy drum corps. The corps was broke, with zero assets and no place to meet or store equipment. The Boston Crusaders were about to face one of the biggest challenges they ever faced.
Drum corps was different back then, or at least it was for the Boston Crusaders. The season never really stopped for the corps. Members were together 12 months a year, not just during the summer. Now where would the corps go? Where would they meet for a parade or an event? Where would they practice? Where would they park the equipment truck — a former Sunbeam bread truck that they painted red and white with a big black Waldo on the side.
The situation was bleak. Dan Rinaldi, the corps manager, decided he would put all the uniforms, equipment and the truck into his home garage, under lock and key, in Allston, MA. The corps needed to find a new home
By the late fall of 1972, the Crusaders had arranged for Friday night full ensemble practices at Boston’s Commonwealth Armory, but thanks to age-outs, the military draft for the Vietnam War and the bleak situation, there were 15 members left in the corps.
They marched back and forth in the armory all evening with just a straight beat. It seemed there was no reason now for the corps to have to rent the armory with just 15 members, but they did. It did not matter whether they had 15 or 200 members, this was a tradition, for they practiced Friday nights at the armory for many years into the future. After rehearsal they would gather together and try to figure what to do next?
The future seemed very dim, even for the most ardent members. The powerhouse Boston Crusaders corps of the late 1960s and early 1970s was a distant memory. It was at this point that the organization changed its focus from being a nationally competitive drum corps to a drum corps merely trying to survive the season.
The members truly lived the words of “GIANT,” the corps song — “This corps is made of giants. We will never die, for we are Crusaders, true-blue Crusaders, we are Crusaders.
Corps we love, corps we love.” No matter how low attendance dropped, the Boston Crusaders continued to practice as though they had a full corps. The three greatest assets the corps had left were pride, determination and talent of the remaining members.
The 1972 year ended with a management change as the corps director, Danny Dwan, was replaced by George Bevilacqua, a former drum major of the Crusaders from the late 1950s. Drum Major James “G” Watts was able to rally the remaining members and, despite the hardship and difficulty that faced them, planning began for the 1973 season.
The first thing that needed to happen was a recruitment drive. Dan Rinaldi was able to attract eight girls from St. Anthony’s color guard in Allston, MA. Jim Centerino was able to attract six Boston College band members from Chestnut Hill, MA. The members themselves tried to recruit any band member they knew and went out of their way to meet others.
They placed hundreds of telephone calls, visited high school band practices and knocked on doors. Whatever it took to get new members to fill the ranks, the hard core members never stopped in their efforts to keep the Crusaders alive. Even people with no band or drum corps experience were asked to join.
The Boston Crusaders were not going to die — no-way, no-how, not on their shift. The corps managed to get the membership up to 45 for competition throughout the 1973 season. They also had a strong commitment to maintain the Boston Crusader tradition, no matter how difficult things became.
Before the 1973 program could begin, they needed to find a new home. Rinaldi had acquired a small brick building, which was a 12-foot by 25-foot hole in the wall; it was along the side of the Charles River in Cambridge, MA. In the early winter months, the corps moved into the Magazine Beach Post. It was a place the Crusaders would now call their home.
Members slept there, rehearsed there and sometimes partied there. It was a very cold place, warmed only by portable heaters the members brought in, and they only worked half the time.
The corps had members with nick names like Archie, Buck, Dusty, Fitzy, Fly, G, Guto, Poindexter, the Southie Boys and the South Shore Boys; also members like Tony Autori, the Marshall sisters, the Cummings sisters, the Connolly brothers — a small nucleus of people who would give the shirt off their backs to help one another out, no questions asked.
The members were extremely self-sufficient, both from an organizational standpoint and day-to-day logistics. Just getting the equipment truck to and from every rehearsal was extremely difficult because it frequently would not run. In fact, Dusty hand-painted a Mass inspection sticker on the windshield so that the truck wouldn’t be pulled over for being unregistered.
Transportation was difficult; coordinating whether everyone had a ride to a rehearsal, parade or a show took a great amount of effort. All the travel in the greater Boston area and other New England states was done by motorcade.
Members paid a dollar a week in dues to help fund their survival. The older folks took care of the younger members, teaching each person what it means to be a Boston Crusader. They also looked out for their health and welfare, helping to make sure everyone made it through the season.
Dan and Paul Pitts took care of the drum line instruments, while Terry Connolly was the horn doctor, always able to put the bugles back together with ingenuity and an acetylene torch. Tom Crown mended and put what was left of the uniforms together.
The instructors for the 1973 season were — brass: Jim Centerino; percussion, Dan and Paul Pitts; color guard, Patty Marshall, Irene Foley.
The 1973 repertoire: El Capitan, Yankee Doodle, Six Eighth drum solo, Man of La Mancha, War March-Battle Hymn of the Vikings, Cast a Giant Shadow, Hava Nagila, Meat and Metal Shoes (drum solo), California Dreamin’ and Conquest.
“Drumfest” was an indoor concert held every April / May in McQue Forum at Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA. It was the first show of the year. Junior corps from all over the East Coast were there — the 27th Lancers, Beverly Cardinals, Blessed Sacrament Golden Knights, Garfield Cadets to name a few. The rumors before the season started were that the Boston Crusaders had folded. Did they or didn’t they?
A lot of people were amazed to see that the corps name was still on the “Drumfest” lineup. It was the Crusaders’ turn to take the floor for competition. Each member came out onto the floor one by one, then went to parade rest. There was such a lull in the crowd as if to say, “Is that it?” A lot of the crowd was staring in disbelief while the corps was doing their warm-up. You could hear fans saying, “Wow! What happened to them!?”
Once the corps hit the first note of the 1973 repertoire, to the very end of Conquest, they were given such a rousing standing ovation. People were in awe that they could put out such a clean, powerful sound for such a small corps.
It was now mid-spring. The Boston Crusaders at this time joined two local circuits for competition for the upcoming season — the CYO and the Mayflower circuits. They would give the corps more local exposure for future membership.
The corps moved rehearsals outdoors to a parking lot at Daley Field in Watertown, MA. The field program was almost complete. The corps was now getting ready for their first field performance of the 1973 season.
On the days off, members would get together and go to Red Sox baseball games, movies, outdoor concerts and some would even have sectionals. The bond between the members was becoming very strong at this point.
The first field show was on Saturday, May 26, 1973. It was in Weymouth, MA. At first, you heard people snicker at the size of the corps. One could see mouths drop. People could just not believe what the corps was putting on the field.
The corps entered the stadium, then went to parade rest and stayed that way in true Crusader tradition, without moving, for 45 minutes. Boston was one of the corps everyone wanted to see — no matter what. The corps was standing on the starting line and was received with a rousing ovation, from beginning to end. The crowd loved them.
They got a score of 56.40 and came in seventh out of seven corps. They were up against big-name corps that had 128 members — allowed at that time under DCI rules.
After the Crusaders finished their show, Manager Dan Rinaldi told them that, while they were at parade rest, he was cruising the stands listening to the comments of the crowd. At first the people in the stands didn’t notice, but then one by one they started to notice. There was a kind of hush of almost being in awe — as if the crowd’s brains were trying to process what they were witnessing.
The buzz in the stands was, “Is that Boston?” ”Hey, look! They have not moved in all this whole time!” Comments of “CLASS,” etc. were being heard. Respect was earned. The Boston Crusaders adopted a motto at that show — “A winner never quits and a quitter never wins / quality, not quantity.”
Standing ovations became the norm show after show. The intestinal fortitude the members portrayed day after day was something to behold; for other corps folded at this size. The members knew they had a shot at nothing. They knew deep in their hearts that they were not going to be able to beat other 128-member corps.
Ît didn’t matter, though. They did it for themselves and the men and women who came before them who wore the uniform with such great pride and respect. They did it so others in the future could wear the Crusader uniform and someday return the Crusaders to its rightful place as one of the finest drum corps in the country.
The Crusaders held there own field show on July 1, 1973. The corps was able to acquire Quincy Stadium in Quincy, MA. It was a local Mayflower Circuit show. It rained most of the morning, then the clouds parted and the skies cleared to a beautiful, bright Sunday afternoon. The stadium’s concert side was full with jubilant fans. All different class corps performed in competition.
The Crusaders then took the field for exhibition. They gave a very exciting and gripping performance. The reaction of the fans at their home show was simply amazing. Things were starting to fall into place a bit easier now that they were coming into the second half of the season.
The corps went on to the World Open at the Manning Bowl in Lynn, MA. The Boston Crusaders performed early that Friday morning, August 3. They got their best score of the season, a 68.05, and came in 17th place out 31 corps. No finals for them this year at the World Open. It was like a dagger in the heart not to be there.
The Boston Crusaders were a perennial favorite at the World Open Finals for many seasons, up until that one. The members of the corps were enjoying the season so far. There was much camaraderie throughout the ranks. They were all they had, no chaperones, no one to greet them after the show to give them water or no cooking team to feed them. They fed themselves or fed other members who had no money.
The second DCI Championships were being held August 16 and 17 at Whitewater’s Warhawk Stadium for the second year in a row. The corps director, George Bevilacqua, chartered a plane from Boston, MA to Whitewater, WI, with each and every member paying their own way.
Dan Rinaldi paid for Joe “Bananas” Bertolami’s plane ticket. Joe, who was an avid fan and a follower of the corps for many a decade, always asked? “How many horns we got?” and “We gonna get some more?” By being able to go on the plane with the corps, Joe was so ecstatic that he would be able to see them perform.
After traveling all night and getting very little sleep, the corps performed in the Thursday morning prelims. As the Crusaders entered Warhawk Stadium to line up, the crowd seemed like they were becoming numb to the performances on the field. When the Crusaders began their show with four powerful cymbal crashes by Buck and Trent, heads from the crowd turned, people again could not believe what they were seeing and hearing.
It was by far the corps’ best performance of the season. People in the stands were screaming and yelling. They were amazed at the corps’ performance. The Boston Crusaders had survived. With a score of 57.00, the Crusaders placed 37th out of 63 corps. No DCI finalists!
It was the end of the season. The members knew that though all the difficulty, along with blood, sweat and tears, they endured in this one special season, it was all well worth it in the end. The drum corps world knew that the Boston Crusaders had passed the test. They would all do it again as many of the members did year after year until they aged out.
Somewhere in their souls, the 1973 Boston Crusader members knew that what they were doing was bigger than themselves. The Crusader tradition of dedication, pride and achievement was not to be lost. The corps has never lived in the past, they remember, they rejoice, but they always move on. The Boston Crusader tradition continues today with the corps returning to national prominence, placing in the DCI top-10 for the past eight years.
Before each and every show, the Crusaders remove their shakos and sing the corps song, Giant. “This corps is made of giants. We will never die.”
Thanks to the 1973 Boston Crusaders, the song and the legend continues.
The author wants to sincerly thank Barbara “Fly” Archambault, Kevin “Archie” Archambault, Tony Autori, Trent Bradbury, Neil Connolly, Patty Marshall Stine and Jim “G” Watts, for all their help with this article. Without them this would not have been possible.