Five Marching Panther alums march DCI St. Louis

Five former Marching Panthers march in The Phantom Regiment of Rockford, Illinois, who performed at DCI St. Louis (O’Fallon Weekly Photo by Sam Scinta)

By Sam Scinta

ST. LOUIS – Marching Music’s Major League took a stop at the Dome at America’s Center on Sunday, as Drum Corps International held their Midwest Championships, featuring some of the world’s best marching ensembles in one of the biggest shows before the World Championships in Indianapolis. 

The previously undefeated Blue Coats clashed with the Blue Devils and perennial title contender Carolina Crown jockeyed for position with Roselle, Illinois’ Cavaliers in a competition featuring one of the most impressive lineups on the tour. 

But for the O’Fallon and Shiloh community, this competition felt a little closer to home despite the location being across the Mississippi.

Five former Marching Panthers currently march for Phantom Regiment out of Rockford, Illinois, and the show acted as a bit of a homecoming in their careers of competitive marching. 

Claire Wilcox, Jesse Saldana, Kevin Belobrajdic, Bryson Hartman, and Daniel Dowling traded in the Blue and Gold for the Black and White, marching together in one of DCI’s most prestigious corps toward the ultimate goal of a World Championship inside Lucas Oil Stadium in August. 

Wilcox, a former Drum Major with the Marching Panthers, performs with the Regiment as one of the group’s conductors, while the other four march on the field. Wilcox is the first former Marching Panther to conduct for the Phantom Regiment since 2013 OTHS grad Josh Johnson in 2015 and 2016.

DCI, unlike the Bands of America circuit that OTHS competes in, features high school and college-aged musicians and auxiliary members, and marches strictly brass and percussion instruments, as opposed to the woodwind and brass wind sections that BOA allows. 

On Sunday, the Blue Devils, out of California, took home first place with an 87.350, just barely edging out second place Bluecoats from Ohio, who scored an 87.125.

Carolina Crown, from Fort Mill, South Carolina, tallied an 85.925 to finish 3rd ahead of The Cavaliers, who were given an 85.025. Boston Crusaders rounded out the top 5 with an 84.575.

Phantom Regiment would end up placing in 8th, scoring an 80.438, behind The Cadets (OH) and the Blue Stars (WI), respectively. 

For some of the former Marching Panthers, this show was about more than where they placed. 

“It was definitely cool to get to perform with this amazing group in front of my family and my friends in a place that I’ve already played at a lot,” Belobrajdic said after the run. “We marched here a lot for BOA in high school, so it was a great experience to get to come back with a different group to a building that already means a lot to us.”

The run was also about adding another chapter to what has been an illustrious marching career for the group.

“DCI is just such a different climate, a different environment for us out there,” Wilcox told the Weekly. “It’s such a powerful sound to be in front of, and it’s just inspiring to be around so many talented musicians every day. The competitions and the practices we had at OTHS really helped prepare us for this in a way, but it’s so incredible to get to continue on in a group like this.”

The adjustment from high school to drum corps is not an easy one, and that’s not lost on the Phantom Regiment Drum Major. 

“I definitely prefer having the busier schedule in corps that we do,” Wilcox said. “We can stay focused because we’re working on it all day, every day, and the show schedule is so much fuller, there’s less time to sit back and dwell on what happened, so it’s easy to look forward to each day.”

After their performance in the Dome, Phantom packed their busses and made the 8 hour drive to Bentonville, Arkansas, where the corps will prepare for their next show in a few days.