QUESTION: Who gets cheered and booed for dotting an "i," is thrilled either way and racks it all up as oh-so-good experiences of a lifetime?
ANSWER: Matthew Reed, a senior sousaphone player in the Ohio State University Marching Band who has had the distinct honor of dotting the "i" as part of the OSU marching band's halftime ritual Script Ohio.
And it's happened not once, but twice, first on home turf Sept. 28 at Ohio State's game against Wisconsin, a 31-24 win for the Buckeyes, and then again on the road Nov. 30 in OSU's thriller 42-41 victory over perennial rival Michigan.
Matthew Reed, a senior sousaphone player in Ohio State University’s Marching Band, had the honors of dotting the “i” as part of the band’s halftime ritual Script Ohio at the Sept. 28 game against Wisconsin. Reed also had the honors again at OSU’s nail-biter game Nov. 30 against longtime rival Michigan. Reed enjoys some family time with his parents, Richard and Rhonda Reed, and his sister, Ali, a sophomore at OSU and the band’s seamstress. Richard Reed is a 1978 graduate of Wintersville High School and the former Rhonda Stewart is a 1980 graduate of Jefferson Union High School.
These are memories to treasure for Reed, the son of Richard and Rhonda Stewart Reed. His father is a 1978 graduate of Wintersville High School. His mother graduated from Jefferson Union High School in 1980. A host of other local relatives includes his paternal grandparents, Bill and Helen Reed of Richmond, who were among the many relatives cheering him on.
Reed grew up in North Canton and attended North Canton Hoover High School, graduating in 2010, and is a fourth-year senior at OSU studying electrical engineering and pre-med.
The marching band has been his passion, dotting the "i" his longtime dream.
"I was so thrilled," Reed said, in a post-savoring of the Sept. 28 experience as he shared his thoughts in retrospect.
"It's really hard to put into words how magical it all is. I just remember it feeling like I got on a really loud roller coaster. Marching through script and around the 'O' felt like going up a ginormous hill that I had been climbing my whole life," Reed said.
"Right before I dotted, I remember feeling like I had just reached the top of the hill and was at the turning moment when you lose that sense of gravity and feel like you're floating. That's when the music kicked in, and I began strutting. It felt a lot easier than what I had practiced, and when I landed at the top of the i, a huge release occurred, and I yelled out all my excitement. It was just amazing to finally experience the mystique of it all," he added.
"When I marched off the field, I remember looking up into the stadium to where my family had been sitting and seeing them beam with joy. I'm so happy I could give that joy to them and so fortunate to have such a loving family to have accomplished this with," he continued.
"It was also pretty awesome seeing my sister afterwards. She's the band seamstress and was on the sideline right in front of me as I dotted. I remember walking up to her and seeing she had been crying out of excitement. She just hugged me and said 'Well, I'm glad you didn't fall,'" he said of the conversation with his sibling, Ali, a sophomore.
While that constituted the proverbial 15 minutes of fame in which to bask in mutual glee, the second "i" dotting occurred on hostile terrain - in Ann Arbor at the Michigan game.
Reed took in stride, however, what was more like 15 minutes of infamy, he joked.
It was almost as thrilling, according to Reed.
"The main difference was instead of hearing cheers of joy, I heard the loud groaning of boos. It still made me happy, though. I think getting to perform Ohio State's famous tradition is the ultimate way to stick it to our rival in their not-so-big-house. It was pretty much a dream come true as everyone trying out on sousaphone has that goal of not just dotting the 'i,' but actually dotting the 'i ' against that school up north," he said.
Dotting the "i" more than once is not entirely uncommon, according to Reed, who isn't the only family member to have experienced the honor. Harry, Williams, 77, his paternal grandmother's cousin, dotted the "i" in the 1958 Rose Bowl. "He (Williams) comes to every game and occasionally marches with the alumni band, so we've shared the field together a few times," Reed said.
"I'll probably get a chance to do it a third and final time next year if I come back for a fifth year of band. Sometimes there are too many i dotters and not enough dots for everyone to get two, but most likely a person if they make band both a fourth and fifth year will get at least two dots. Each person can only dot a single script once at home, though, so typically, if you're going to have a second script, it will be an away game. I was very fortunate to get two really great games to dot the 'i,'" Reed said.
Reed explained how "i" dotters earn their opportunity.
"To dot the 'i' you must be a fourth- or fifth-year sousaphone player in the band with preference given to the fourth years. The ranking system is based on the number of performances you have participated in with weight given to home games over away games. Not every sousaphone player marches every game. The Monday after each performance a series of 'challenges' occur that allow 'alternates' - the non-marchers, the bench - to challenge the regulars - the current marchers, starters - for their spot," he said.
"If the alternate wins, they take the regular's spot in the band, and the regular becomes an alternate. Almost everyone in the band at one point or another loses a challenge and becomes an alternate. Before each season, rank is calculated, and the person with the highest rank - most number of performances - is given first priority of which game they'd like to dot. Then it continues down the list until all the dots are filled," he continued.
"This year when we calculated the rank, I was determined to have the highest rank among the nine 'i' dotters - fourth and fifth years - as I never had lost a challenge. Due to the band's activity this year and traveling opportunities, we had enough I's to dot that I was permitted to have two selections, which I chose the Sept. 28th prime-time home game against Wisconsin and the ever-exciting rivalry game against the team up north in Ann Arbor," Reed said.
"It's considered the greatest honor a Buckeye can have and only a handful of the best Buckeyes have ever had the honor of participating in it. I consider myself very lucky to have had such an honor and extremely fortunate to be able to be a member of the group of people who carry on this great tradition of Ohio pageantry," he said.
While dotting the "i" is a huge honor, so, too, is just being a part of "The Best Damn Band in the Land" or TBDBITL.
"The process of joining the band is long and rigorous for sure. It officially begins in early June when the first summer sessions begin to take place," he said.
"Summer sessions are three-hour practices in Columbus at the practice field where 'candidates' - those looking to make band for the first time - are taught fundamentals by squad leaders and upper-class 'veterans' - those looking to make band for the second, third, fourth or fifth time," he said.
"There's a max of five years you can spend in band. The fundamentals that are taught are marching techniques that we use all season long. We also spend time on practicing school songs - "Fight the team," "Buckeye Battle Cry," "Sloopy," "Le Regiment," etc. - and developing proper warmup and instrument tuning practices. Summer sessions are two or three times a week. The first two years I tried out I never missed a single summer session. They're very important to preparing for tryouts," Reed said.
The August tryouts involve a five-day process that allows the directing staff to analyze and grade students in marching and playing, according to Reed.
"Everyone has to tryout again every year with the very real possibility of getting cut after you've made it before. There have been instances where a third- or fourth-year-in-band hopeful has gotten cut," Reed said. "There have even been times where people have missed out on dotting the i because they were cut the year they were supposed to do it. I believe about 500 students typically try out every year for 225 spots. The competition for sousaphone is a little higher as it entails the possibility of dotting the i. Typically 70 to 80 sousaphone players are trying out for 28 spots. Several instrument professors are brought in to listen and grade each person's musical ability. The directing staff analyzes marching along with the marching and playing aspects of tryouts," he continued.
Reed describes the tryouts as being one of the most difficult things he's ever participated in - a "marathon that tests you mentally, physically and emotionally. I've actually run a marathon (Canton 2012), and I think trying out for band is tougher. You just have to keep reminding yourself to leave it all on the field and to know what you're fighting for," he said.
Reed credits his parents for his interest in music.
"My parents instilled the importance of learning music in me when I was young. I kind of always knew I'd be learning how to play something," Reed said.
"In fifth grade I had the opportunity to join band. I chose to play trumpet because that's what my dad (and Uncle Mark Reed) played before he switched to playing the tuba. I kind of had that plan to follow his footsteps and eventually switch to tuba as well. My mom played saxophone growing up and wanted me to pick that up, but I chose trumpet because there aren't any saxophones in the Ohio State Marching Band, and I figured transitioning to tuba would be easier," he explained.
Reed made the trumpet-to-tuba switch in the seventh grade.
"The first two years I played, I had to sit on telephone books to reach the mouthpiece, because the instrument was so big," he reminisced.
Being a part of the OSU Marching Band has been difficult, but extremely rewarding, too.
"It has allowed me to surround myself with some of the greatest human beings on the planet. Seeing the work ethic and dedication of all the members as well as the character and integrity they embody has truly made me a better person," Reed said.
"I've been given so many opportunities that I know I would not have had otherwise as a result of being a member of this band. We get so many cool chances to travel and opportunities to represent the culture of music and marching bands. It really is an honor," he added.
But Reed initially had his doubts.
"I never thought I had what it took to make the band," said Reed, who almost passed on attending OSU, thinking he lacked what it would take to compete with the level of athletes and musicians that try out.
"My best advice to high school musicians is the best advice I ever got - take the chance and give it everything you've got," he said.
"Chasing this dream has molded me into a better person that has rewarded me with so much. I want people to know that dotting the i is a great tradition that really isn't about strutting, taking a bow or spelling Ohio," Reed said.
"Dotting the i is about getting the opportunity to make Ohio proud while hopefully inspiring a young boy or girl to pick up a horn and experience music the way I did. If you are a high school kid out there in the band, come to Ohio State and try out. It is completely obtainable, and I promise the memories you will make, you will never regret, and you will never forget."
(Kiaski can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)