1955...A New Beginning!
The first year of competition, 1955, was much like the first year of existence in 1932, though challenging in a different way....new, exciting, and yes, humbling. The bar had been raised and they soon realized that the level of excellence they aspired to would take a little time. The new, competitive Hurricanes were a far cry from the top flight corps that had inspired them. They needed to learn how to march, and quite a few had to learn to play a bugle. Oscar Knablin was the musical director faced with this daunting task. He had but one player who could actually be considered a musician…16 year old Art Hlywa. Art led the way as this group of “green” valley boys made steady strides, playing better and better. It wasn’t long before Art was joined by other pretty good players like Tommy Brady and Bill Wallace. The steady influx of talent had begun. Buddy Ogle was in charge of the drum line, and quickly turned them into a respectable unit and perhaps one of the best marching instructors of the day, Vinnie Ratford, was in charge of the drill. The Hurricanes of 1955 were a neighborhood corps and they competed in the Yankee Circuit against corps from Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts of a similar caliber that rendered a level playing field. The Corps achieved modest success in 55'...took some lumps in this inaugural year, but also beat a few corps along the way and actually notched their very first contest victory that year in their very first competition in New Britian, Connecticut on May 1st.
It is said that you must crawl before you walk and you walk before you run. It would be a few years before the Hurricanes would run, but the die was cast, and they were certain that one day they’d run! After that first year of 1955, the renowned Earl Sturtze took over the drum line. And at the helm, for the 25th year, the drum major that inaugural season was Pat Reidy…..Yes... the same Pat Reidy from 1932!
When the Corps travelled to Miami for the A.L. National Convention in 1951 they enjoyed a rollicking time…so much so that a hotel worker commented that they “brought more chaos than a Hurricane!” In taking that comparison as a compliment, they began to refer to the Corps as the “Hurricanes.”…and the moniker took hold. Next to manning and fielding a competitive corps in 1955, perhaps the most significant happening of that year was a weather event that crippled Connecticut and particularly devastated the Naugatuck Valley, home to the Corps….Hurricanes Diane and Connie. These two storms ripped through the Northeast within a period of six days of each other. The shear power and impact of these storms, not to mention the respect future forecasts of this magnitude would beg only enhanced the mistique of the new name the Corps had adopted….”And from the clouds the lightning came, they knew it was the Hurricanes.” Director Gene Imperato’s assistant, George Biancarelli, made the trip to Hartford on February 16, 1956 and filed papers to incorporate and formally rename the Corps, now officially called “The Connecticut Hurricanes.”
The Connecticut Hurricanes continued to grow and improve over the next few years. In 1957 Vinnie Ratford wanted to bring in a young upstart to teach the horn line…a brash kid from Brooklyn, NY by the name of Joe Genero. Joe wasn’t sure if he wanted the job. On the night he came he brought some music to teach. When the rehearsal was finished the Corps had shown him they did indeed possess the tenacity and desire to be something special… a corps that would work hard, a corps that he could mold into a champion! Joe meticulously mentored the Corps toward his vision and standard…a standard of uncompromised commitment and dedication. Joe Genero worked with many co-staff members over his twenty year tenure, every one of them Hall of Famers in their own right, but make no mistake, Joe was the architect of the Hurricanes’ highly popular shows. The personality of the Corps came to reflect the fiery competitive nature Joe so effectively imparted and exemplified!
In 1958, with continued resolve to make their mark as well as command respect in the the drum corps community, the Hurricanes were once again sporting new uniforms. The Corps sealed their identity with a new look….black jacket, black pants with a white strip, white shoes, black military hat with a chrome medallion at the peak and the feature that would become the most recognizable for the Hurricanes….a silver lightning bolt across their chests! Just as in 1937, these new uniforms generated enormous pride.
Of note in 1958 was the temporary absence of Joe Genero. Joe was called to duty in the Air Force Reserve and was gone for six months. Genero called upon his good friend Hy Dreitzer to run the horn line while he was gone. Dreitzer not only guided the horns but also finished writing the show by penning a New Orleans medley for the concert number. The Hurricanes under Dreitzer, Sturtze and Ratford made great strides in 1958 including a respectable 9th place finish at the American Legion Nationals in Chicago, a marked improvement over the 18th place finish a t the Nationals in 57'. At years end the Hurricanes celebrated their first title when they captured the Yankee Circuit championship!
Les Parks succeeded Sturtze as percussion head beginning in 1959 and they were now led on the field by a charismatic drum major named Bob Daniels. The Corps culminated the 1958 campaign with a high level of confidence and began competing in the Northeastern Circuit in 1959. This was a tremendous boost for the Corps…the Hurricanes, as a unit, were steadily gaining maturity and the drum corps community was starting to take notice thanks to a 5th place finish at the American Legion Nationals in Minniapolis that year. They now felt ready to compete with the big boys! And under the guidance of Director Robert “Moe” Mihalcik beginning the decade of the 1960’s, they would do just that….in a big way!
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