By Mikey McGuire
Every year, WGI groups around the country deal with the logistical issues of getting their ensemble to Dayton, Ohio, for the annual WGI World Championships at the University of Dayton. This trip provides challenges for every group, but groups coming from the far edges of the country face the biggest logistical challenges.
Percussion groups from Southern California face numerous challenges when it comes to making the journey to Ohio. With how the SCPA circuit schedule shapes out, groups are left with only a few days of turnaround time to get the trucks loaded and on their way to Ohio for WGI championships the following week.
"There are two sides to it, the performers and staff have to fly or else it would take forever, and the equipment has to drive." John Mapes, director of both Pulse Percussion and Chino Hills Indoor Percussion, said. "We have our circuit championships the Saturday before, and the trucks have to leave that night. So we load up and send the driver out that night and hope we get our gear by Tuesday."
Mapes is uniquely positioned to be the director of a Scholastic group and two Independent groups that make the trip. With the association with the school district and the age of the members, scholastic groups have always faced a few more hoops to jump through in getting the kids to Dayton, and with Chino Hills, it's no different.
"It's more the school issues. The district has to approve the trip, the kids have to have certain grades, and sometimes the teachers have to sign off on the kids to let them make the trip, which can create some issues," Mapes said. "It gets more expensive. Unlike the independent group, all the kids have to be on the same plane."
But while there may be a few more hoops to jump through, Mapes thinks the trip might be a little easier for the scholastic group.
"There are a lot of parents involved with the high school and a full-time band director that help look after the kids," Mapes said. "On the independent side, very few parents are involved, so it's just a few directors and admin helping with both Pulse and POW. It's all a part of one organization, so we are running both while we are down there and can get stretched pretty thin sometimes."
Once the major logistical issues are out of the way, and the groups are down there, the change in the environment provides challenges of its own for all groups coming to Dayton, but especially those coming from California.
"Jet Lag is a big issue, and that is pretty brutal for the first few days. A 9 AM rehearsal in Ohio feels like a 7 AM for our kids, and that's a big challenge," Mapes said. "The independent kids tend to work through it, and they hang out all year, so they go to Dayton, and it's not that different for them. The High school kids, on the other hand, like to stay up late, play video games, and eat bad food, like high schoolers tend to do. We have to remind them that it's a business trip and we are there to compete. We run into little stuff like that people might not think of."
The trip also plays a role in the show design for groups that make the trip. Groups coming from long distances tend not to have incredibly prop-heavy shows because of the logistics of getting those props to Dayton in one semi truck along with gear and instruments.
"The other problem we have is that we have to design with limitations in mind," Mapes said. "If you want some big props, you have to decide if you are willing to take another truck and see how much that will cost. That happened with Pulse last year. We had some pretty big props, so we had to take two semis between Pulse and Pow. Sometimes we can combine, and we had to rent space on the Chino Hills trailer."
By far, the biggest challenge any group faces in making the trip is money. Every year costs increase to travel to championships, and with the added difficulties of distance, the cost only increases.
"The biggest challenge has always been financial, and it gets worse every year," Mapes said. "Last year was insane. We saw the cost of the trip go up from the time the season started to the time we actually made the trip with inflation and gas prices. We had a budget, and then everything got more expensive."
The financial limitations of the trip are the main reason only a handful of groups from California compete in Dayton every year. Despite having one of the biggest non-WGI circuits in the country, only 15 groups made the trip from California in 2022; seven in PIW, three in PIO, and five in PSA.
"Pretty much none of the scholastic groups go except the five in World Class," Mapes said. "That puts a lot of pressure on Independent Open and A groups in the area because if you do not make the trip, you won't get the members, but then you are stressed about money."
The stress of travel is a hurdle every group in the country has to face when it comes time to close the season out in Dayton, and Southern California ensembles know that very well. Despite that, SoCal groups consistently make the trip worth the effort by competing for medals in both Scholastic and Independent World and putting on a great show for everyone who comes out to see them.
About the Author:
Mikey McGuire has marched 3 seasons of WGI percussion, First playing cymbals with Crystal Lake Thunder out of Crystal Lake, Illinois in 2018. He moved on to Pi Percussion out of Romeoville, Illinois in 2019 and 2020, also playing cymbals. Mikey also writes for Missedapexpodcast.com as well as his personal blog mikeymcguireF1.com.