Fall Saturdays in Columbus are game day. Most of the 105,000 fans in attendance take their seats for the football game well before the first play to watch The Ohio State Marching Band’s pregame performance. To them, the day is about much more than just the 60 minutes of playing time. It is the rich traditions that make the trip to Ohio Stadium worth leaving the high definition TV at home.
The singing of “Carmen Ohio,” the cheer of O-H-I-O during kickoffs, and “Hang on Sloopy” after third quarter are all near and dear to Buckeye fans’ hearts. But only the sousaphone’s traditional strut out to dot the “i” in Script Ohio can make fans roar as if quarterback Braxton Miller completed a pass for a touchdown.
“The Incomparable Script Ohio” is the band’s signature formation, according to its website. As UAHS band director Mike Manser points out, the tradition reaches beyond the band, and in 2012 ESPN’s Bleacher Report ranked it as the third best tradition in college football.
After four years of playing sousaphone—the marching band equivalent of a tuba—in the OSUMB, 2009 UA alumna Jocelyn Smallwood will dot the “i” in Script Ohio. The shining moment in her musical career will come on Nov. 24 when The University of Michigan comes to the Horseshoe.
As the top ranking sousaphone in her class, Smallwood had first pick of when she would dot the “i,” and she chose the Michigan game. To add to this achievement, her dotting the “i” will be one for the record books, as it marks a number of historic firsts for the band.
“It’s a rarity, certainly, to be the number one [sousaphone],” Manser said. “Jocelyn is the first female… to dot the ‘i’ at the Michigan game, [and] she’s the first African American female to dot an ‘i’ period.”
For Smallwood, this distinction has been an event she has worked toward for years, starting with her decision to try out for the OSUMB her freshman year of college. However, as Manser points out, the competition to make the OSUMB is stiff, particularly for sousaphone players.
“The people that they cut out of that band would probably be one of the best college bands in the country, so the people who make it are even a notch above that,” Manser said. “I think it’s even harder in the sousaphone section, because people come from all over the country with the goal of dotting the ‘i’ in Script Ohio.”
To have the best chance of obtaining a spot, Smallwood began training for her audition immediately after deciding to try out.
“The night I decided I was going to Ohio State and trying out for band I started running, lifting weights, practicing my music and marching,” Smallwood said. “To someone who knows little about the band that might sound silly, [but] everyone in the band runs or lifts or plays other sports to get in shape for band because it’s so physically demanding.”
Despite the difficult process ahead, Smallwood dreamed of someday dotting the “i” for the biggest game of the season: the Michigan game. While training with a former member for her first audition, she got the idea and couldn’t seem to get rid of it.
“Before I could stop myself I decided that I was going to dot the ‘i’ against Michigan,” Smallwood said. “I immediately told myself that I couldn’t think about that because I hadn’t even made the band yet, and I knew I needed to focus on that first. But I’m somewhat stubborn, so it was no use. I just remember deciding at that moment that I was going to dot the ‘i’ against Michigan and there wasn’t another option; I had to make it happen.”
Fortunately for Smallwood, her hard work paid off and she was able to make her seemingly far-fetched dream a reality.
“With a lot of extra work… I ended my third year ranked first,” she said. “I still can’t believe it.”
Manser, who has known Smallwood for over a decade, is not surprised with her success; he has watched her grow throughout the years and has witnessed her hard work.
“She went in with the goal of dotting the ‘i’ and it wasn’t a matter of it being easy,” Manser said.
“She’s put in a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of work… To get to the top of the mountain of dotting that ‘i’ is a great accomplishment,” he continued. “It’s kind of hard to put into words.”
Smallwood attributes much of her success both on and off the field to the UAHS band program.
“I always tell people that making the decision to do band in high school is definitely the best decision I’ve ever made,” Smallwood said. “I wouldn’t be who I am today or be accomplishing what I am today without that organization and the people involved in it.”
Smallwood wants to use the opportunity as a way to thank all those who have assisted her in some way during the process.
“The reason I’m excited about it is because I get to share that day with everyone who has helped me get to this point,” Smallwood said.
“I am ecstatic to strut out in front of 105,000 people at that game,” she said, “but the best part about it is I get to share it with all these people I care about so much.”
Image Caption: Upper Arlington band director Mike Manser (left) and assistant band director Kolin Redman (right) visit UA alumna Jocelyn Smallwood (center) after the band’s performance at the pregame pep rally known as the Skull Session.
Photo courtesy Mike Manser