Prior to becoming an Ohio State Drum Major Cory Thompson had very little experience with being a Drum Major. “I had been Drum Major for my high school, in Elyria, my senior and junior years. The qualifications for that position were nowhere near that of becoming an Ohio State Drum Major. I was simply asked by my high school band director if I would be interested in being the drum major for Elyria High. I had accepted the position even though I had no experience or even knew how to twirl. My first twirling lesson was in February of 1993 by my high school band director Doug Benford, and the current drum major at the time.” said Thompson. In Elyria, at the time, twirling was done with a rubber tipped baton.
“I had a successful two years at Elyria High school- but not successful enough to think I could do the same for The Ohio State Marching Band.”
At the beginning of Thompson’s senior year, he had decided that Ohio State was the college he would attend and fulfill his life long dream of becoming an accountant, a profession he had decided in the third grade. “Three factors helped make my decision.” said Thompson, “The success of the Fisher College of business, the tuition rate, and the proximity to my home town. At that time I did not even think about trying to become Drum Major at Ohio State. With only two years of experience under my belt and having only twirled a rubber tipped baton I did not think it would be possible.”
This view changed on Veterans Day of 1994. That day was the day Thompson’s family traveled to Ohio State and to tour campus and learn more about registering the college itself.
“ When I look back at this day I realize that it was fate that I was to become Drum Major at Ohio State. The reason I say this is because when we arrived at the campus to Lincoln Tower in the morning to register- to our surprise the campus was closed due to the holiday. We should have realized it was going to be closed since my stepfather is a veteran and a usually very detailed man. On our way to leave early that morning we had driven by the stadium and the marching band happened to be outside practicing. My mother wanted to stop and watch. As we were watching, my mother had asked me if I had plans of trying out for the band and my reply was, ‘no’. She asked why, and I told her I did not think I was anywhere near the caliber that was required at either the Drum Major position or with my trumpet. Well my stepfather thought otherwise and decided to introduce himself to the Drum Major, who at the time was Brian Berendts. He wanted me to go along, but I refused. I was too shy at that point in my life.”
Since Thompson did not go to the Drum Major, his stepfather brought the Drum Major and the Assistant Drum Major, Karl Neudorfer over to meet him.
“ I must give thanks to the both of them, for they encouraged me to come and at least try out for D-row in the fall. ”
After his first meeting with the Berendts and Neudorfer, Thompson attended a spring session and at D-Row (the drum major squad) tryouts, he was successful. From there, Thompson became Assistant Drum Major underneath Karl Neudorfer for two years and then Drum Major the next two years.
“ Being the Drum Major for The Best Damn Band In The Land was amazing. I had learned about life and myself and have many memories that I will always cherish. I will always remember my first ramp. I was nervous to the point of being sick. I did not sleep much at all the night before and could not eat anything. I was afraid of falling on my backbend even though I had practiced it countless times. When we had come over from Skull Session and were waiting on the ramp under the Stadium it seem like an eternity before we actually started Pregame. All I could think of was the backbend. I had probably did 20 waiting for Pregame to start. When it began I was so nervous, I thought, ‘why am I doing this? -- why am I here?’ as the band was quickly passing by me in the tunnel.” The answers to those two questions came one moment later.
“ Strutting out of the tunnel in front of a hundred thousand Ohio State fans, continuing down the field to the thirty-five yard line, I touched my backbend and heard the roar of the crowd grow twice as loud as my plume touched the ground. And standing up I saw my name on the scoreboard. That answered to my two questions, and it was my most cherished memory of my Drum Major career.”
In 1996 the football team went the Rose Bowl, and it had been a long time since their last visit to Pasadena. Several disappointing losses to Michigan had kept the team away. Coach Cooper finally overcame the ‘team up north’. That year the team would have had a perfect season record if it had not been for that “other” team up north, Michigan State University.
During the time away from the Rose Bowl the marching band had forgotten what a demanding schedule the Rose Bowl trip could be.
“ We did too much in the way of practicing and performing outside of the game itself. In contrast to the Sugar Bowl the year earlier, we had practiced ‘like there was no tomorrow’. We had performance after performance and even taped a commercial to be shown on national television on game day, which I thought was pretty cool. Meanwhile, the grueling schedule made at least half of the band sick- including myself; I lost almost ten pounds that week.
“ We really never did get enough sleep. We usually were doing something as a band from early in the morning till 9:00 p.m." Unlike the many pep-bands and appearances the Rose Bowl Parade would prove to be a different and more challenging experience for the band. Traditionally, Drum Majors allowed the Assistant Drum Major to perform the six-mile long parade immediately before kick-off, so the Drum Major could rest for the performance at the game. Thompson decided to change that tradition for one time.
“ I had never performed a parade that I loved and hated at the same time. I decided to break tradition and do the parade along with the Assistant Drum Major. I loved the parade because it was such a production with the floats, people, television stations and so on. Unfortunately the floats kept breaking down due to the heat and it had taken forever for us to complete the six-mile parade. It was also the only time in my life I had migraine.“
After the parade, Thompson was not sure his health was going to allow him to make it through the performance. “How I felt was not a problem once we were in the stadium. That game was different, I loved every minute. I was so pumped when it came time to do pregame, and I never came down from that game high until the flight home. Strutting out to the fifty-yard line and knelling on the painted rose which left a red stain on my uniform that is still there day. It was the first and only time I had to perform on a football field around a television cameraman walking around and recording our show live. This is one of the few games that I remember what I was thinking and feeling during the game, especially the last drive of the game, the several third-and-ten conversions and the touchdown pass by Joe Germaine to David Boston still sit in my memory as if it had happened yesterday.”
“Being Drum Major has done nothing but make me a better person and open many doors in my life. It had taught me responsibility, commitment, perseverance, leadership, and what it means to be part of a team. Some of my closest friends have come from the band and being Drum Major even had a part in bring my wife and I together. I believe that being Drum Major has helped me obtain every job that I have had from that point in time until now. I am proud to have been and Ohio State Drum Major and excited to know that I am part of a legacy/brotherhood that is unique to Ohio State and that my name will always be part of Ohio State and The Best Damn Band In the Land as Ohio State’s forty eighth Drum Major.” said Thompson.