As American football has nationally risen to preeminence, another activity has analogously arisen to the status of a sport in its wake. Marching Bands, functioning as the relentless support system to football teams, have worked their way up to a certain dignity that undoubtedly qualifies them as a sport. A former Marching Band member myself, I can personally attest to the physical exertion, regulations, and widespread popularity of the pursuit. No football game, a stereotype of American culture, is considered complete without the addition of a band performing at halftime. Nonetheless, controversies abound in the labeling of Marching Band as an American sport.
Two questions must be addressed in providing Marching Band with its new competitive tag: 1) Is it inherently American in essence? 2) Does it hold the physicality, popularity, and dignity deemed indispensable in recreational sports? Indeed, delving into these two criteria, I have found that Marching Band is more of a sport than most “traditional American pastimes”.
Bands initially rose to prominence among the armies of city-states, beginning as venerable military bands and evolving into the still stately yet contemporary Marching Band. Consequently, from these origins, bands are manifestations of nationalism within a country. These musical groups were ever-present forces among the American revolutionaries fighting to overthrow British rule. Furthermore, in the tradition of beginning sporting events with the American anthem, the Marching Band is the producer of patriotic ethos among spectators. No origin may more feasibly be reckoned as American. Thus, our first criterion is fulfilled. The second has recently been under the severest of scrutiny, and the object of much dispute. When considering the most simplistic of definitions, a sport is a pursuit entailing physical exertion, competition, national popularity, and a certain sense of dignity without falling into gentility. All such prerequisites are fulfilled by Marching Bands. Running drills and constant movement demand the utmost precision and physicality from its participants, yet graceful steps and stoicism characterize the act of marching. Both prerequisites are thus fulfilled, and the declaration of Marching Band as a sport is the result of historical precedent and personal preferences.
The emergence of competitions in recent years has begun transitioning Marching Band as an American sport, particularly to a more professional status. The Drum Corps International, established in the 1970’s, maintains the responsibility for regulating the expert competitions between Marching Bands. It was not until the establishment of the aforementioned Corps that the impetus for change favorable toward these athletes gained momentum. The competitive shift was further bolstered by the addition of two national circuits, the United States Scholastic Band Association as well as Bands of America. The top 50 bands at a season’s end even perform in a college or professional stadium, highlighting the competitive tension and growing professionalism of the sport.
Legitimacy through the medium of popular media, the filter from which spectators often acquire their opinions, has arisen to come to the aid of Marching Bands. Sport’s Illustrated averred this pursuit as a sport after their representative witnessed the Drum Corps International World Championship competition. Furthermore, other more stereotypically “American” sports have also provided support for the proper classification of Marching Bands. Basketball coach Bobby Knight was recorded in Sport’s Illustrated as claiming “if a basketball team trained as hard as these kids do, it would be unbelievable. I like to take my players to watch drum corps to show them what they can accomplish with hard work and teamwork”. Not only is Marching Band thus a true American sport, but is also a paradigm of athletic pastimes, an apex of accomplishment in the realm of teamwork.
As Marching Band’s classification as a sport becomes more widely accepted, a danger emerges. “Whatever you do, you should do well”, although a noble ideal, this is inherently flawed. Alongside a focus to become progressively better comes the threat of working only for the ends of the sport, not the means of enjoyment. Medals and recognition often gain dominance over meaningful competition, a trend witnessed among multiple American sports. Therefore, proper caution must be applied in ensuring the survival of Marching Band as a sport, and not simply as a commodity of professionalism and trophies.