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Nation Drill Team Captures Another Trophy
by Brianne Bowen | Aug 13, 2013 1:56 pm
Posted to: Arts & Culture, Dance, Dixwell
Doug Bethea had basked in the glory of a national drill team championship 13 times before. His Nation Drill Team’s just-earned 14th championship has added meaning—he dedicated the victory to his recently deceased sister, Michelle Reid, who encouraged him to start the team 26 years ago.
The Dixwell-based team came away with wins in the drum corps and in all three of the competition’s age divisions to capture the overall title in New Orleans, La. on Aug. 6.
After traveling 28 hours by bus, stopping only to switch drivers, the team returned to the Elm City this past Friday bearing shiny golden trophies. One for each age group’s win. Another for the best group leader in the Pee Wee division. Another for participation.
A gold-and-purple-striped trophy, topped with an elk figurine, towered over one of the drill team’s youngest members, Tanijae Thomas, age 7. Thomas’s mother pulled out a cell phone photo of the 3rd grader doing the splits next to the mammoth trophy.
To prepare for the competition, the team stepped up its practices from three to six times a week in the month leading up to the event, said Bethea, a city street outreach worker who runs the drill team as a labor of love. On Saturdays, the six-hour practices often started at 6 a.m. Drillers ran on the track and flipped truck tires to improve their conditioning, then rehearsed their routines. Sometimes the 120-member team added Sundays for seven-day-a-week training.
In training, Bethea said, he sometimes assumed the role of drill sergeant, yelling in a manner that mirrors the strictness and precision of the members’ routines. “It’s the discipline that comes with championships,” he said. Bethea emphasizes what he calls the “Three D’s”: discipline, dedication, and determination. The main message, he said, is that hard work pays off, no matter the arena.
Leading the Nation allows Bethea to support young people and instill positive messages, he said: Never believe you can’t do something. Know what you want in life and who you want to be.
The many hours spent drilling also keep kids busy and out of drugs and crime, he said. “Somebody looked out for me growing up. I had someone who kept me off the streets. Why not give it back?”
Myran Darden, 15, said drumming for the Nation gives him “something better to do” than standing around. A sophomore at Hillhouse High School, Darden aspires to become a music producer. Drumming for the drill team, he said, has expanded his skill set. Now, he can carry out choreography as he performs. He knows more music theory, has improved his hand coordination, and can play more quickly. “I’m using all of this as background [for my future career]” he said. At home, Darden said, he drums on a pad or pillow to practice.
Tayona Williams, 10, also practices avidly, said her mother, Shante Teel. “She practices all the time at home. In the shower, I hear her stomping. When she wakes up in the morning, she’s stomping.” Williams joined the team in April after taking ballet, tap, and hip hop classes.
Some drillers start much younger than age 10. Milani Glass, age 16, used to watch Bethea drill at the Q House as a child. She had to wait until she turned 4 to join and has been drilling ever since.
For the national championship, 58 drillers and parents boarded the bus for New Orleans. “It was more than full,” Glass said. Other parents flew. Traveling to competitions like the national championship allows drillers and drummers to see other states and other cities, Bethea said, an opportunity the kids wouldn’t get otherwise. In New Orleans, the team cooled off at a water park and visited areas ravaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
For the first three days in New Orleans, the team practiced in the hotel’s conference room. On Aug. 6, each age group performed one routine for the judges. The routines earned near-perfect marks: 99.8, 99.6, 99.9 out of 100. “[The kids] turn into different people at competitions,” Bethea said. “It’s like they turn a light switch on.” Though he said the drillers’ mistakes at practice drive him “crazy,” at the national championship the team didn’t miss a beat. “To see them hit it, their feet not even touching the ground. …” Bethea said, his eyes tearing up. “I love these kids.”
The team’s championship winnings will help support the program, going towards drum equipment, uniforms, or items like team hats and T-shirts. The team also raises money through individual sponsors and through donations collected by kids at locations like Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen and Stop & Shop Supermarket.
“I was happy we won,” drummer Jerry White, 16 said.
“I knew we had it in the bag,” Myran Darden added.
Parents, too, expressed happiness over the win. “These kids worked very hard to get the title they deserve,” said Glass’s mother, Darshell Peters. “It was great to see the smiles on their little faces that they won something big.”
The team will travel to New Jersey to compete in the New England State Championships next month.
Tags: Doug Bethea, Nation Drill Team
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Congratulations ladies! Hard work pays off, BIGTIME.
Great Job Dougie!!
A huge congratulations to Doug and the team! Doug has been through a lot but he still manages to run one of the best youth programs in the region. This is important work and the fact the kids flock to his program and make major sacrifices to be the best in the country is incredible. Thanks Doug!!