Devon Kesling, a 22-year old physical education major, started twirling the baton at an early age. "I was seven, when I saw a barber come out of his shop and start sweeping the sidewalk. The barber stood there flourishing his broom in a drum major's routine, never dreaming that he was inspiring the bug-eyed boy beside him," he recalled.
"I went home and sawed off the handle of a new broom," Kesling chuckled, "and never let anyone know what I was doing. I got a licking every time I ruined a broom, so I got five of them that first year." Finally, convinced of their boy's determination to become a drum major, his parents presented Kesling with a baton for Christmas.
When the 5'8" master of the baton reached high school, he was chosen drum major at Dayton Fairmont High School and won the state championship for three straight years. After high school, the husky drum major enlisted in the Marine Corps and led the El Toro Marine Band during his three years of service. He acted as a drummer and drum major, entertaining he troops with his skills in the South Pacific. Chiang Kai Shek and Harry S. Truman were notables who witnessed his performances.
When Kesling became drum major at Ohio State in 1947, he changed the "rules." Before him, simple marching and twirling at the same time had been the traditional method of leading the band. He maintained the semi-military attitude, but at the same time moved about while twirling. His movements were lever flippant like many twirlers.
Instead, sensing the crowd's reaction, he would adjust his timing for the next event. Kesling executed many of the baton movements later used in the '70's, but never in a straight routine. He almost always started his show with simple and less spectacular tricks. Then he would progress to more difficult twirls, topping his act with a spectacular stunt. He never over-performed, gave away his secrets or his baton.
Kesling's publicized career landed him baton engagements with professional football for nearly ten years after college. He is credited with starting one of the first baton camps in America for majorettes and drum majors at Camp Oglebay, West Virginia, in 1947.