Cambria Cadets - Ebensburg, PA
Short History of the Cambria Cadets
The Cambria Cadets Junior Drum & Bugle Corps was born in the fall/winter of 1962. The organization was an outgrowth of the Legionaires Sr. Drum & Bugle Corps. The original instructors were: Bill Bumford-Marching, Newt Bumford-Color Guard, Ed Dively-Percussion, and Rash Isenberg-Horns. The first appearance of the Cadets occurred at the Ebensburg Memorial Day Parade in 1963. The Cadets marched solely as a parade corps for the initial year and continued to participate in local and regional parades through the history of the corps.
During the first year, the Cadets utilized instruments from the Legionaires and uniforms (red, yellow, and black) from the Gardner Guards. In its second year of existence, the now familiar red, white and blue color scheme was adopted.
Other local adults instrumental with the creation of the corps were: Bill Paul-Quartermaster, Paul Bearer-Treasurer, Don Long, Jim Jones, Ted Henry, and Larry Davis.
1964 brought the organization its first statewide championship - the VFW state parade championship in Pittsburgh. Each succeeding year brought a higher level of maturity to the performances of the Cadets because an unusually high percentage of the12 and 13 year olds chose to remain with the corps. In 1964, the Cadets entered their first field show competition in Lock Haven, PA.
During the first few years, the Cadets transitioned from being predominantly a parade corps to a field show corps. During this era, even Western PA had seven to eight field show corps, which meant ample competition without having to travel long distances. However, the eastern part of the state remained the hotbed of the junior drum corps activity in Pennsylvania.
By 1966 the Cadets had grown and established a solid reputation throughout western PA. It was also having growing pains as the activity, as a whole, was moving from a quasi-military, pageantry activity to a more musical and visual activity. New types of instruments were introduced allowing for more sophisticated scoring and different sounds, i.e., contra basses, mellophones, rudimental bass drums, timp-toms, tonal bass drums, bongos, timbales, etc. One of the original instructors, Ed Dively, decided he could not take the percussion any further and John Blair assumed that duty, with consulting assistance from the Reading Buccaneers’ John Flowers.
In 1967 the Cadet organization took, for them, a giant step by joining the Penn-York Circuit. The activity had begun to fundamentally change and the number of local, hometown corps had declined in Western, PA, which meant fewer local contests. The Penn-York Circuit solved a couple of problems for the Cadets. First, it provided the number of competitions needed; and second, it opened the organization, the instructors, and the members to new ideas, new philosophies, and new approaches from junior drum corps from all over the state of New York. Arguably, hooking-up with the Penn-York Circuit was the most significant growth activity in the evolution of the Cambria Cadets. The first year in this circuit the Cadets were respectable, but not contenders. However, one could feel the growth and determination of the corps increase from week to week and that drive held over to the winter rehearsals. No one was looking back and the little corps from the little town of Ebensburg was going head on with corps from cities like Rochester, Syracuse, Auburn, Corning, and Batavia NY. The Cadets managed to place 2nd in the Penn-York Championships to the Purple Lancers from Auburn, NY – a relationship between the two corps that would cultivate and thrive over the years.
The Cambria Cadets became one of the most popular activities for children in the community. A typical example is that girls who wanted to join the color guard would routinely come to practice and show their interest for a year, before even applying for membership. The percussion section would, routinely, practice 3-4 times per week. And, the corps was beginning to develop a regional draw for members. In addition, that core group of members who used to be 12, now were 16 and 17. Simply, they had the experience and could play and march better.
The stature of the organization was ingrained in the drum corps activity both in the states of Pennsylvania and New York. However, the championship flags had eluded the corps to this point. Everyone wondered if the Cadets would always be the bridesmaid?
New branches of the activity were emerging like the winter competitive color guard. The Cadets entered that activity and became quite successful throughout Western PA. Consultants and other specialists were brought in to the organization and infused new ideas to the performers and staff.
It was, to borrow a phrase - the best of times. There was a sign erected at the borough limits saying - Welcome to Ebensburg, Home of the Cambria Cadets.
The corps even sponsored an annual winter color guard competition, in the spring that took on a dual purpose – obviously, the regional color guard competition but also, the unveiling of the Cadets new repertoire. That caused a swell in attendance as enthusiasts and corps staff from the region packed into Bishop Carroll’s gymnasium to get a sneak peak at what the Cambria Cadets were playing for the upcoming year.
One year, during the color guard competition, the corps displayed a bit of artistic trickery as it entered the gymnasium floor for exhibition. Many people had come from all over the Western PA area to hear the status of the corps’ new repertoire. The Cadets entered and set up for the standstill. Upon command, they started marking time; however the sound heard by the audience came from a back portal of the gymnasium. The sound was of the other half of the corps entering. With 18 percussion, 36 brass, and 30 in the Color Guard the entire corps thundered through their performance. Many of the visiting staff and members of the other corps attending left that evening knowing that the kids from Ebensburg were not going to be trifled with during the upcoming summer.
1968 was a solid and exciting year for the corps. The Cadets finished first or second in most of the competitions. There were many who thought this might be the year for the American Legion and VFW state championship. However, it was not to be. Mostly because of the different judging associations used (from the eastern part of the state), and those judges were not familiar with the Cadets; but also, the Cadets strictly adhered to the proscribed age-out limit of 21. However, several of the eastern PA powerhouses played loose with that requirement. It was not unusual for a member of a senior corps, e.g., Baltimore Yankee-Rebels to spend a Saturday also marching with the Bracken Cavaliers.
Although disappointed, the organization was strong and morale skyrocketed as the corps entered into its remaining competitions of the season. In 1968, the Penn-York Circuit Championships was held in Syracuse, NY. A long trip! Transportation rarely used – Chartered Busses. A long preliminary competition! Then, the finals that evening. When all the dust settled, the bridesmaid was now a full-fledged bride. The corps members were initially in shock, but stoic at the retreat, pretending like it was no big deal. It was a big deal and afterwards, only one word could describe it – euphoric! What a way to end a season! It was also a galvanizing event for the members. Members pledged that next year would be even better. The performers probably couldn’t articulate their feelings at the time. In retrospect, it was synergy; the notion that the “whole” is bigger than the sum of its parts.
Returning from Syracuse to the ‘burg’ at the dawning of a new day, the convoy was met outside of the town with rows of cars of well wishers on the side of the road, honking and waving and ready to make that convoy bigger and to celebrate the collective success of a little town.
All the members and especially that core group that used to be 12 and were now 17-19 had been imprinted with important life lessons that would serve them well in their later lives – teamwork, collaboration, friendship, hard work, and many others.
It is fair to say that the winter of ’68 and spring of ’69 was an inspired time for all involved. Expectations ran high. Practices were frequent, long, and arduous. Driven. The season was wonderful, winning many shows and placing a close second in a few. The administration of the corps made certain that the Cadets got some early exposure to some of the other judging associations that might be adjudicating at the state championships.
The Cadets traveled to the state capitol – Harrisburg, and the VFW State Championships. The corps left the afternoon before, getting prepared for the preliminary competition the next day.
All the powerhouses from the east were there. The odds-on favorite was a corps called the York White Roses. Black, gold, and white colors in their uniform made them appear quite powerful. And they were good! But not good enough! The Cadets put on an inspired performance. A new state champion – The Cambria Cadets.
The next day, marching in the parade beside the Pennsylvania State Capitol the corps approached a long line of black, gold, and white uniforms applauding and saluting the Cadets – the York White Roses. At last, a well deserved recognition from their home state.
Plans were for the corps to return to Ebensburg after the obligatory VFW parade. However, someone called and wanted the newly crowned state champions to perform that very evening at a DCA Senior Corps competition (Brass Impact) close to home, in Altoona. The Cadets were happy to oblige and showcase their sparkling trophy and talents.
The American Legion Championships was held a week later in Pittsburgh. Despite a great performance, the Cadets placed second to the Brook Haven Crusaders.
The publicity the Cadets received in the local region was remarkable! The corps was riding high and preparing to go back to New York for the Penn-York Circuit Championships. Everyone knew it would be intense.
In those days, preliminary competitions were held simply to determine who was good enough to perform that evening. Scores were not announced. The Cadets made it into the finals.
An equipment penalty caused the corps to place second to their friendly but fierce rival – the Auburn Purple Lancers. When the recap sheets were released, the corps learned that they had won the preliminary competition, and would have won the championships, if not for an equipment penalty.
What can be said about the Cadets in the‘70s is mirrored in the fabric of the decade. That core group, mentioned earlier, were now 18-19 - some went to Vietnam, some went to college, some moved on to the workforce, and some had other priorities that prevented their further participation.
War. Peace. Change! And the activity itself was switching into hyper-speed for change. All of the conventional standards were “on the table” for scrutiny. Even in Ebensburg the change was felt. During that time, the rules required every corps, during their field show, to perform a selection commonly known as a Color Presentation where the American Flag was honored. Typically, that was a patriotic selection like ‘The Stars and Stripes Forever.’ For two years running, beginning in 1970, the Cadets Color Presentation was a song titled - Let There Be Peace On Earth.
The activity was changing in other fundamental ways. The American Legion and VFW had, traditionally, written the rules for the drum corps activity. They proscribed where a corps started on the field and where the corps ended, and basically the entire scope of a show. A group of very influential people in the activity began to question those parameters. Their premise was fairly simple: Why don’t we change the rules so that the performances can be more musically and visually exciting to the audiences and more engaging for the performers? Their requests for change were met with an unreasonable, stuck in the mud answer – NO.
The reticence to negotiate and compromise, by the American Legion and VFW, was a colossal mistake because those same influential people in the drum corps activity simply said to them – BYE. What was once the pinnacle in the drum corps competitive arena (the American Legion or VFW National Championships) was relegated to the status of a Dodge Dart. Observers of the activity soon saw organizations like the Combine evolve, and then, just a few years later – Drum Corps International. It was a brand new day for the activity, ripe for those who wanted to and had the capacity to take advantage.
It was a turning point for the Cadets organization. The desire to compete was clearly present but the capacity could not be mustered. As many things do, much of it came down to money. Hundreds of drum corps throughout the east and mid-west fell victim to the activity’s systemic changes coupled with a growing, national economic depression.
The organization was still strong and trying to figure out ways to adapt in a quickly changing environment. This included new staff. One of the lead horn players, Jim Patterson, began arranging some selections (My Guitar Gently Weeps and Love Is Blue). He would go on to instruct the brass in 1972. Mike Clawson took over the marching instruction in 1972. And John Bugosh instructed the brass in 1973.
As that core group of performers exited in the early ‘70s, they were replaced by a younger, but no less determined group of performers.
During the mid to late 1970’s a new, equally enthusiastic, group of members joined the Cadets. In order to generate enough shows, they joined an organization called the AIDC (Alliance of Independent Drum Corps) – a group of struggling organizations banding together to promote the activity. Some of the members were: Cambria Cadets, Tyrone Guards, Westernport Blue angels, etc.
Following that was a membership in the Garden States Circuit, which required lots of traveling to Eastern PA, New York, Delaware, Maryland, plus trips to DCI East, US Open, and the American International Open.
Instructors during the later 70’s and early 80’s were people like: Mike Clawson, Dave Buzminksky, Bob Giles, Bill and Barney Toomey, Glen Edwards, Don Palko, Mary Clawson, Larry DiLoreto, Vince Keilman, Bob Bracken, Becky Sowers, Tom Teeter, Rash Isenberg, Bob Thomas, and Ernie (The Lurch) Weaver.
Throughout many of these years Leona Sowers was President of the corps and other important adults were: Bob and Pat Handler, Bob Sowers, and Mike Sanborne.
And as it was in the 1960s the fundraising and hoagie sales to support the organization were prolific
As the 70’s creped into the ‘80’s and the cost of operating dramatically increased with soaring interest rates, all non-profit groups were hard hit.
During the late 70s, the Cadets were a strong organization in spirit. As a member during that time remarked – “we were always respectable, what happened is that what teens were interested in doing changed, we weren’t big enough, kids who were really into it went to bigger corps because they wanted to be successful.”
The corps declined in members and by 1984 decided to revert to a parade corps. That was the final year for the organization.
The Cadets had a long run and a proud history. Hundreds of young lives were fundamentally changed for the better.
Friendships, bonds, and experiences that lasted a lifetime – that is what it was about. The most important legacy of those 20+ years survives in the fabric of the lives that it touched. The occupations of members range from doctors, nurses, teachers, construction workers, coal miners, engineers, steel workers, social workers, computer analysts, business people, and psychologists to name just a few. Each with their own memories of how this organization helped shape their lives.
As of 2005 the Cambria Cadets Alumni Association has begun to sponser an Alumni version of the corps. In addition, the Alumni Association is actively seeking former or potential members.
- entry for Cambria Cadets - corpsreps.com
- Cambria Cadets Alumni Association and Alumni Corps alumni web site