In 1984, Pitt Drumline member Chuck Lee wrote a pre-game cadence called "Noise!", and with drill designed by section leader Cindy Cormier to lead the drumline out onto the field in advance of the band, the "Entrance" quickly became a standard part of Pitt Football pre-game performances. Over time, successive drumlines refined the Entrance, and in the early 1990s, alumni were encouraged to bring fire extinguishers and fill the mouth of the stadium tunnel with smoke for the drumline to run through. After the early success of the drumline's exciting smoke-filled entrance, the entire band soon adopted the tradition, which has been a trademark of the Pitt Band's pre-game performance routine ever since.
1985 was a pivotal year for the Pitt Drumline. With the arrival of new band director O'Neal Sanford, Percussion Head David Moy and Instructor Dan "Danno" Yadesky, the drumline began to more closely resemble a drum corps style percussion section. Cadences written by section leader Chuck Lee completed a fresh new sound and direction for the Pitt Drumline. In that year, a new set of Slingerland drums were purchased, and they were special ordered to be wrapped in gold mirror finish with gold Remo heads. Paired with the Pitt Band's new uniforms and updated musical style, the drumline began to grow into a credible modern marching percussion ensemble. While the 1985 drumline was not known for being technically proficient, it was extremely intense and entertaining to watch.
Off the field, the members of the drumline became a tight-knit group and forged strong bonds while going through all of the changes in the Pitt Band program. Their identity had changed from "The Chrome Wall" to "The Crew", and in awareness of this transformation, the group began assigning nicknames to each other to symbolize their second identity as members of the Crew. Many social traditions were born during this time, expedited by the establishment of the first "Crew House" in 1986. This first Crew House was founded by Joel Slesinger, Kevin "Kevi-Kev" Cervi, and freshmen David "Rox" Diecks and Todd "Weirdman" Hartman at an apartment house on Bates Street in South Oakland.
During this new era, the Crew began to perform solo engagements at local band festivals, and were sometimes accompanied by the Pitt Golden Girls and/or Pitt Color Guard. Intricate cadence routines written by Moy and Yadesky entertained audiences, and by the late 1980s, the "Crew" grew very large, often fielding drumlines over 30 percussionists deep and featuring as many as 12 snare drummers.
After serving as a Section Leader and center snare of the Pitt Drumline in 1990, Todd Hartman began working as a graduate assistant to the percussion staff upon his graduation in 1991. While enrolled at Duquesne's Graduate School of Music, Hartman began infusing his signature latin feel into the drumline's repertoire, introducing iconic cadence "What is Hip?" in 1993 - which was also the year that Section Leader Aaron "Jughead" Forsythe added another crowd favorite to the cadence sequence called "Up Top". Todd's dad, Clayton Hartman, has been the voice of the Pitt Band for nearly 60 years, and still announces every Pitt Band half-time show to this day.
After marching his age-out year on tenors with the Phantom Regiment Drum Corps of Rockford, Illinois and serving as the section leader of the Pitt Drumline the year prior, Mike "Cool Breeze" Smith joined the percussion staff as a tenor tech in 1994. Mike's eventual wife, Chelsea, was a senior snare drummer that year, and she was also known around the DCI circuit from her days as a marimba player for the Crossmen Drum and Bugle Corps. Smith co-wrote a cadence called "Baseball Tonight", which was also written by 1994 section leader Steve "Chops" Melby and senior snare drummer Matt "Bird" Bille.
In 1996, Jack R. Anderson took over as the Director of Bands at the University of Pittsburgh, and after Dan Yadesky's mid-season departure the following year, the drumline entered a period of student led instruction. Also during this time, the drumline was forced to move out of the second Crew House (at 305 Oakland Ave) due to the construction of the South Bouquet Gardens dormitories on campus. 1997 marked the first time since 1985 that the drumline had no Crew House, so drumline members Mark "T.Bag" Romito, Nick "Stimpy" Ernst, Kurt "Beaker Leibmann, Doug "Heatmeiser" Irvine, and Matt "Tick" Walker offered up their apartment as an honorary Crew House alternative - which became affectionately known as the "Chop Shop".
Without having a drum staff to write all the custom music that the Pitt Drumline had grown accustomed to playing, Brad Root, who joined the Pitt Drumline as a freshman tenor player in 1994, began picking up the writing slack for half-time arrangements. As Section Leader in 1998 and 1999, Root became the primary percussion arranger for the Pitt Drumline, adding many new warm-ups, stand beats, and cadences - most notably "Skeed" in 1998 and "XXX" in 1999. After a year without a permanent drumline hangout, Brad helped to establish a new Crew House on 347 Meyran Ave in the summer of 1998 - along with fellow house mates Gary "Tupac" Dickson, Robert "Pokey" DiPasquale, Mark "Big Sissy" Davis, and freshman Tyler "Koko" Brown.
In 1999, Root became the only drummer in Pitt Band history to play a drum set solo during the half time show at a Pitt Football game, when he performed "What I Like About You" during the Homecoming game at Pitt Stadium. Just weeks later, on Nov. 13, 1999, the Pitt Football team staged a surprise upset of rival Notre Dame in what would be the last football game ever played in Pitt Stadium. Following an emotional day where nearly 50 alumni drummers joined the Pitt Band for it's final half time show in Oakland, the drumline put on a memorable performance right outside the tunnel entrance to Pitt Stadium for hundreds of enthusiastic fans.
In 2001, Section Leader Tyler Brown took freshman snare drummer Will Lynes under his wing, and the two helped to raise the expectation level for the snare line. Brad Root and Todd Hartman began arranging more difficult pieces for the drumline during this period, and by 2003, it was apparent that the technical ability of the drumline as a whole was gradually improving with each successive year. In order to bring the cymbal line up to the capabilities of the rest of the battery, local indoor drumline standout Erica Rattigan was brought in as a cymbal tech in 2004. Erica brought a wealth of knowledge that was desperately lacking in the cymbal line for a very long time, and the new, aggressive style she taught was an instant hit with audiences.
After the Fiesta Bowl trip in January of 2005, Todd Hartman resigned his post after 19 years of service with the Pitt Band, and Brad Root assumed the role of Percussion Coordinator. Will Lynes, who served as Section Leader in '03 & '04 and had asserted himself as a prolific student writer, was added to the percussion staff in 2005. With snares, tenors, and cymbals all sufficiently covered by capable instructors, it became obvious that a bass drum specialist was needed on staff. Erica introduced Jesse Wilson to the staff at the end of the 2005 marching band season, and in 2006, he became the bass drum and drill tech for the Pitt Drumline.
With Erica's departure from the staff in 2006, the cymbals were again left with no instructor. However, the program introduced by Erica continued to flourish under Cymbal Squad Leader Kevin "Goose" Romagnoli, who ended up taking her place on staff after graduating in 2007. Goose continues his work as the primary cymbal instructor for the Pitt Drumline today, and is responsible for much of that section's improvement over the years.
With Jesse Wilson joining the staff and the infusion of a large group of talented freshmen percussionists in 2006, the Pitt Drumline's on-field performance really began to take off. Root had been gradually steering the drumline focus away from stoic cadence sequences for years, opting instead to push the line towards more lively "performance piece" oriented material that incorporates visual movement and updated homegrown beats. As overplayed cadences were retired, Will Lynes and Jesse Wilson began adding modern material to the Pitt Drumline pre-game and post-game repertoire - highlighted by exciting pieces such as "Applied Science" (Lynes 2006), "Peppi's Cadence" (Wilson 2007), "Dynasty" (Lynes 2008), "On the Prowl Entrance" (Wilson 2010), and "Tad the Preppy Steamboat Captain" (Lynes 2010).
While the names, faces, and football conferences change - the tie that binds all past and present members of the Pitt Drumline together is a desire to continuously improve on the field, while keeping the time-honored traditions of "The Crew" alive as well. As we look to the future, another talented group of young men and women vow to uphold the standards of past drumlines, and strive to raise the bar even higher while writing their own piece of Pitt Drumline History.
David "Rox" Diecks
The Spirit Award is named in honor of David "Rox" Diecks who passed away on April 12, 1992 as a result of injuries he received in an automobile accident. Although mortally injured, Rox assisted in removing his friends from the wreckage and refused treatment until they were treated. It is this unselfish act and spirit of service that typified the man and is celebrated annually with the presentation of the Spirit Award.
Rox was known for his great enthusiasms, loyalties, dedication to and love of the University of Pittsburgh Varsity Marching Band; particularly it's Drumline. He is no longer with us, but his spirit is in each of the awardees.
The spirit award is presented to a member of the Drumline who best exhibits great enthusiasm when the Band takes the field or when our teams are in action, no matter if they are winning or losing. The awardee must demonstrate unwavering loyalty to the Varsity Marching Band and to his/her fellow percussionists. Most importantly, the awardee must have sacrificed his/her personal gain for the benefit of others.
The Spirit Award conveys no reward or outward sign of glory save having the awardee's name engraved on the commemorative plaque residing in a place of honor in the Varsity Marching Band facility. The glory of this award is the knowledge that the awardee's peers have selected him/her as the person who represents the best qualities of each member of the Drumline.
The Spirit Award places a burden on its recipient, that was best illustrated by Dr. Jonas Salk, who, when honored for his leadership in the development of the polio vaccine at the University of Pittsburgh, said:
"The reward for work well done is the opportunity to do more."
The inaugural "Rox" award was given to Aaron "Jughead" Forsythe in 1992. Since then, the annual winners have been: