Perhaps no marching band formation is more recognizable than the Ohio State Marching Band’s “Script Ohio.”
The tradition, which has become one of the most revered in all of college football, goes back exactly 80 years to October 15, 1932, when a band on the field at Ohio Stadium in Columbus first spelled “Ohio” in perfect cursive.
But that band didn’t belong to Ohio State. It was visiting from Ann Arbor.
As a gesture of goodwill to its hosts at the 1932 Ohio State-Michigan football game, the Michigan Varsity Band (as it was known then) spelled the name of its rival state while playing “(Fight the Team) Across the Field,” one of Ohio State’s fight songs.
Four years later, the Ohio State Marching Band began its pregame tradition of spelling “Ohio” in script before its October 24, 1936 game against Indiana. Band director Eugene Weigel had been present in 1932 when Michigan did its version of Script Ohio but said that he got the idea for the formation from “the rotating sign around the Times Square Building in New York City . . . and also the sky-writing advertisements at state fair time.”
(At least one Michigan fan blog rejects Weigel’s claim that his inspiration for Script Ohio was anything other than the Michigan band’s 1932 performance.)
Ohio State historians acknowledge that Michigan did Script Ohio four years before Ohio State did. But Ted Boehm, who was a member of the 1936 Ohio State Marching Band, says that there is a lot more to Script Ohio than the final formation:
We submit that the script aspect is only one part of the overall event that is signified by the name. Of course, the script is the one essential element, but there is more; all of the parts have merged, starting with the triple revolving block Ohio as the lead off formation, the peel-off into the script movement, the interlaced shoestring movement, the pervasive driving beat of the venerable Le Regiment de Sambre et Meuse, the dotted “i” and the concluding vocal chorus.
The “concluding vocal chorus” refers to the chorus of “Buckeye Battle Cry” (Ohio State’s other fight song) that band members sing after all 192 of them have fully unraveled into script formation.
Though Michigan dotted its “i” back in 1932, the dramatic dotting of the “i” that brings the show to its climax belongs entirely to Ohio State.
Four games after the OSU band debuted its version of “Script Ohio,” Weigel decided to emphasize the dotting of the “i,” so he gave the job to a sousaphone player, the sousaphone being the largest marching band instrument. Today the honor is reserved for senior sousaphone players, who high-step from the loop on the final “o” to the position of prestige, or honorary “i” dotters—such as golfing legend Jack Nicklaus (class of 1961), Ohio senator and astronaut John Glenn, and university presidents, among others.
So happy 80th birthday, Script Ohio.
Michigan deserves credit for coming up with the idea, but Ohio State and its “Best Damn Band in Land” (the nickname it acquired during the Woody Hayes era) is responsible for turning it into one of college football’s great traditions.