The 1980’s, From the Mountain Top to the Valley…
The new decade of the 1980’s also ushered in new members….among them Rich Yelinek, Ray Clark, Phil Vizzo, Chris Simetti, Nancy Seeley, Joan Schaeffer, Gail Bottillo, Edgar Frazelle, and Bernie Malesky. 1980 also saw the Hurcs change to new uniforms. Bill Duquette had been named director and promptly unveiled a new look for the Corps. The uni consisted of a white cadet style jacket, replete with hunter green piping…..hunter green pants, with red and gold stripes…..a red and gold sparkly cummerbund and sash, with a lightning bolt… of course, finished with the traditional style Hurricane military hat in white and white shoes.
The 1981 competition season began slowly for the Corps, Gus Barbaro had replaced Pat Scollon as head of the drum line, and Dennis Banks was now the on field marching instructor, having replaced Ed Yagovane. The reigning champs, the Reading Buccaneers were the corps to beat. Following the slow start the Corps began showing the results of a grueling rehearsal schedule of four, sometimes five days a week.…the Corps began to move up. They really began to gel. Scores became tighter. Posting late season placements of; one 1st…..four 2nd and two 3rd place showings, the corps worked relentlessly in preparing for the DCA championships in Philadelphia. The Hurricanes went into the championship weekend with confidence and control. Pepe and company had prepared them well! Preliminary competition results had the Hurcs in 1st, and in the finals, they turned in an electrifying performance...the yield of so many weeks of extraordinary perseverance…a performance that resulted in the Hurricanes capturing their third DCA Championship crown. “While other corps performed their best, the Hurricanes out shine the rest.”
The rebuilding effort over the past five years was very gratifying indeed! A by-product of the recent evolutionary trends the activity had taken in recent years was in the expansion of instructional staffs to several people for each caption. The Hurricane staff was thus, an amalgam of egos and diverse personalities, with each of them influencing the Corps through their own unique perspective. Ray Fallon summed up the mindset and attitude of the Corps through the course of their ascension to the 1981 DCA Title when he wrote…”Like us, don’t like us, it’s your choice. We can’t care because we’re doing it for The Hurricanes, for each other, for ourselves.” And for this shining period, the legend came alive again!
1982 began very promising. The staff remained intact and the Corps was full, having completed a strong winter. The reigning DCA champions were poised to throw it down. As the season got under way, there wasn’t a clear favorite emerging. All of the contenders were up and down and each week, positions changed. Going into the seventh show of the season, the DCA regional championship, the Hurricanes had won three contests, placed second twice and were brimming with confidence. Their confidence proved to be warranted as they sparkled in that show and came away as Regional Champs. Feedback to date seemed to dictate that changes to the show were in order, so the staff went about tweaking it over the last month. The changes effected were not enough to overcome strong competition and the Corps eventually placed 3rd at the championships in 1982.
Disappointed, yet undeterred, the Hurricanes looked forward toward 1983 with high expectations, however,…Life can get in the way. Many long time members were leaving, and others needed time off. The result was a winter of non-productivity. Also, there were staff changes; Jim Wedge was brought in to write for the brass and Jack Cash wrote for the percussion. Neal Smith again designed the drill and Mickey Kelly was in charge of the color guard….and of course, Pepe. 1983 was also a year that saw the staff enriched when Jim Russo came onboard to assist instructing the visual as well as perform with Pepe as drum major. The sparse winter attendance led to a late start…the first contest wasn’t until July 30th. Too little, too late…although the Corps worked hard, with focus and enthusiasm, they ended in the second division for the first time in five years, with a seventh place showing in the championships.
The 1984 staff saw a few changes. John Flowers took over percussion arrangements and Jim Wedge stayed on writing for the brass. Ralph Pace penned the drill while Jim VanRomer guided the guard. After five years, Pepe Notaro had decided to move on. Filling the void he left was none other than Joe Genero, assuming the duties of lead brass instructor, and the equally effective and ever articulate Ed Yagovane took charge of the visual, also, Vic Kulinski took over as the new lead drum major. Buoyed by new comers Dave Dion, Scott Friend, Bob Kogut, Carl Atkins, Larry Ashelford and George Maloney, the Hurcs performed well, with a full schedule, yet still placed sixth in the finals. It is said that success breeds success. Mediocrity has its effects also. At years end, many of the younger members looked to up their game, and sought out greener pastures, choosing to give marching in a DCI corps a shot while they were still eligible. The cycling out of veteran players only compounded the numbers dilemma. Storm clouds were looming large at the “eye of the storm.” A strong nucleus and dedicated leadership would be paramount to weather the challenges that would face the Hurricanes in years to come. Lasting solutions would prove to be elusive.
1985 brought major changes in leadership; Bob Rush took over as director and assumed the task of arranging percussion as well as teaching. Ray Fallon returned to assume control of the brass, Dave Bandy wrote the drill, and Jim VanRomer continued with the guard. The Corps worked hard, with limited numbers, and didn’t make their first appearance until July 13th. The season progressed with the Corps posting some disappointing placements, ultimately finishing 9th in the championships in 1985. On a sad note, in October of that year, the Hurricane family lost an icon, Harvey Olderman passed away at age 89…forever leaving a void as well as a legacy of class and dedication.
Changes were again forthcoming for 1986; Bob Rush relinquished the directorship to Vic Kulinski, preferring to devote all his energy toward the percussion section. The rest of the creative staff consisted of Joe Vizzo writing drill, Ray Fallon on brass, and Brenda Curran and Cathy Janelus handling the guard with long time Honor Guard member Vic Kulinski Sr. replacing Harvey as Captain. However, it would prove to be a challenging journey as the Corps began the off season with less than 25 total members! An unforeseen event occurred during the winter that compounded the uphill journey faced by the Corps; A major leak at the Hurcs home in Ansonia destroyed most of the uniform jackets. Without funding to replace them, Vic Kulinski scrambled to outfit the Corps with an inexpensive, makeshift uniform. The uniform consisted of a black waiters jacket trimmed with silver, worn over a silver bib like garment insert that was emblazoned with a lightning bolt, white pants, green cummerbund and white hats. The jackets were donated by a local linen company, the pants were purchased at an Army/Navy store, and the hats were graciously provided, at cost, by a uniform supply company Once again, a quality staff not withstanding, the Corps came out late and performed at sub-par levels…..they ultimately finished in 12th position and failed to make the top ten for the first time in the history of the DCA. The Hurricanes were finding out they couldn’t be competitive with the big boys of the circuit, as they had been for so many years, fielding a sixty to seventy member corps.
The Hurricanes were imploding! The circumstances leading up to the state of the Corps had been creeping up on them for many years. The declining membership was no longer a product of the natural ebb and flow going out of whack…the only thing cyclical about the sagging numbers was one way… cycling out! Sagging membership, however, wasn’t simply a product of mediocrity. The balancing influx of new people was not happening. In fact, the late 1970s was the final period when people came in from junior corps. Why?...in a nut shell, there is no longer junior corps’ in the area. Whereas at one time, perhaps as many as forty drum corps populated the region within a fifty mile radius of the Hurricanes, now there was virtually none…the junior scene had literally evaporated. At one time it seemed as if every town had a corps, sometimes more than one. Bridgeport at one time had several! Without the recruitment opportunities that multiple corps in the region provided, the future of the Hurricanes was very much in jeopardy!
The Corps would, however, continue. “With lightning and thunder, they say this corps came from under.” This was indeed a challenging period, however, the strong, albeit, smaller nucleus remaining from the early 1980’s was joined by a few new players in the second half of the decade. People such as Steve Seeley, Paul Hagist, Stacy Ericson, Dondi Stafieri and Pete Propfe would provide lasting impact. Additional members coming in from the Springfield area and a few people from winter guards kept the Corps going. Folding the organization may have crossed the minds of some, however, true Hurricane grit prevailed and they refused to give in.
The year of 1987 saw the Corps grow slightly in membership. The addition of some stalwart vets from some great Hurricane corps of the past, as either staff or players, provided an intangible influence on the newer members. Johnny Glynn and Doug Oravez bolstered the soprano line…Curt Golder served as a brass tech. Rich Mastrioani and Bob Findley came on as marching techs. They joined other long time Hurcs on staff like Bob Wilcox, Bernie Malesky, and Brenda Curran…of course Cakes and Steve “Loops” Gangi were there too. These folks had drum corps in their blood; they knew what it takes to be successful, e.g. work ethic, standards, commitment… and, simply knowing how to make drum corps fun! Be it by calculated instruction or leading through silent example, these savvy members of the “nucleus” molded and influenced many newcomers in the way that had always perpetuated the Corps. Ray Fallon and Bob Rush wrote the brass and percussion respectively, while Joe Vizzo stayed onboard to write the visual show. He was joined by Brenda Curran and Mary Kantorowski heading up the color guard.
The Corps was able to find enough uniforms to ease itself back into a traditional Hurricane look; green pants, white blouse, multi-colored sash with a lightning bolt, green cummerbund and a white Hurc hat. Although it wasn’t evident by their placements, the Corps had slowly begun to regain some stature in the DCA ranks. Still not fielding a large enough corps to mix it up with the upper echelon of the circuit, they were, none the less, proud of the quality of the Corps. The 1987 Hurricanes went to Allentown and placed tenth in the DCA prelims but to the dismay of all drum corps fans, Mother Nature showed her ugly side and the finals were rained out!
Vic Kulinski headed up a successful fund raising campaign over the winter and was able to upgrade the uniforms for 1988. The new uniform consisted of a white military jacket with green piping, multi-colored cummerbund and red sash, green pants with a white stripe and white shoes. Changes in the staff saw Danny McBride writing the visual program and Jim VanRomer returning to take charge of the guard. With Bob Rush writing the percussion and the revered Ray Fallon heading the Brass, The Hurricanes fielded a very pleasing program…one reminiscent of traditional Hurc entertainment of the past. A Big Band interpretation of “Begin the Beguine,” “Magnificent Seven Suite,” and “The Way We Were” rendered the Corps a crowd favorite week after week, and ultimately brought them 9th position at the Championships…demonstrating that they were a corps on the rise! On a positive note, the Hurricanes began connecting with local high school bands; of note was Norwalk High Band Director Jeff Smith who came on board to do double duty as a brass and visual tech. High school band competition was beginning to gain in popularity...could this be the opening…. the beginning of a beautiful friendship?
A new year, 1989, saw a few changes with Dennis DeLucia arranging the percussion and Jeff Namin assuming control of the color guard. They joined Ray Fallon and Danny McBride, on brass and visual, respectively, to complete the creative staff for 1989. The Corps had grown some in membership and maturity, especially in the guard and percussion sections. The Hurricanes of 1989 were a feisty corps…led on the field by drum major Vic Kulinski the Corps performed a tribute to Buddy Rich that was well received throughout the season. In spite of their continued presence in the “second division,” and of failing to make the finals…missing by .5 tenths, this corps was in no way demoralized…in fact they were inspired by their belief that the struggles over the past five years were
not endured to ward off the end, quite contrary, they believed the obstacles they had overcome had positioned the Hurricanes for future success!
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