"The Boatlift" carries the 1980 Garfield Cadets to a legendary finish

And how The Cadets almost wasn't

Cadets Alumna (Class of ’83) and former YEA! and Cadets team member Caryn Goebel has volunteered to write several historical articles for the monthly Cadets Alumni Newsletter. Here is the first of the fantastic articles Caryn has written for us.

Every Cadet has those unbelievable summer stories. Poignant moments of friendship and camaraderie. Memories cherished, shared and laughed about with loved ones in the years that follow. 1980garfieldcadetsdci.jpg

For the 1980 Garfield Cadets who marched off Legion Field following their finals performance in Birmingham, Ala., the story of their summer experience is like no other in drum corps history. This group of 128 kids from, at the time, the most unlikely points of origin, saved one of the oldest drum corps in the activity from folding.

“It was a huge crowd at 8 a.m. for prelims. It felt like they came from everywhere to see if what they heard about us was real,” said drummer Dane DuFour of Davenport, Fla. “They chanted ‘East, East, East,’ and ‘Go, go, Garfield,’ and the rest was just like whatever a dream is supposed to feel like when you're living it.”

And what they thought couldn’t get any better, did.

The 1980 Garfield Cadets — the very corps that hadn’t been in finals for two years and scored in the low 50s at their first show of the season…the corps that couldn’t field a full hornline during camps…and the corps that included nearly 100 rookies — had made it to DCI finals!

In the end, their tenth place prelims placement held in finals and the struggles of the months that led up to that remarkable August night would become legendary in the history of the Maroon and Gold.

The “Boatlift”

North Jersey winters can be bleak. For the staff and local kids that made up the 1980 Garfield Cadets, bleak was looking downright abysmal in January, February and March. Many vets looking for greater success in DCI standings had moved on to other corps and regional recruiting efforts in New Jersey and surrounding states had resulted in little to reinforce a hornline of about 19 brass players. Something had to be done — something unconventional — or Garfield would not be able to put a show on the field that season.

Then-Corps Director Dr. Richard Santo (class of 1984 Cadets' Hall of Fame) had just tapped Drum Instructor George Hopkins (current director and class of 2002 Cadets' Hall of Fame) to become assistant director of the corps. Among Hopkins’ priorities was to help recruit enough musicians to field a full corps.

"Doc" Santo and Hopkins explored every alternative they could imagine. Santo made it clear he had no intention of being the director responsible for bringing the corps’ storied history to an end, according to The Cadets 75th Anniversary History Book. Hopkins confided he believed the members they needed weren’t going to come from the Northeast, so he and colorguard instructor Jim Paradise traveled to Southern states to begin recruiting efforts for the floundering corps.

“I knew someone who had marched in the corps who had once said ‘if you ever need kids, give me a call…there's a ton of kids down here on the Gulf Coast that want to march, but just don't have anywhere to go,’” said Hopkins. “So Jim and I went down there and did presentations to recruit. We drove back and forth at least three or four weeks in a row.”

The recruiting initiative was exhausting, arduous and unprecedented in a day when drum corps were predominantly made up of local members. But back-to-back trips to the southeastern states were worth the effort as more than 40 southerners were recruited from Mississippi and Louisiana.

“Once that list of kids was finalized, a small group of Cadets, of which I was part, drove two 15-seater vans to Mississippi to pick up the kids,” said Patrick Zampetti, a snare drummer with Garfield from 1977 to 1980 and percussion instructor from 1981 to 1984.

“The Boatlift” or the “Southern Van Lift,” as it's known in Cadets’ folklore, enabled the Garfield Cadets to field a full drum corps that season and ensure that the life-changing experience would be available for thousands of young men and women in the decades that followed.

“A couple of weeks before we were scheduled to perform for the first time, we got this caravan of people that came up to the Hackensack parking lot late one night with kids coming up to march with us,” said trumpet player Eric Santo of Upper Saddle River, N.J. The son of Doc Santo, Eric Santo marched from 1977 to 1982.

“I’ll never forget that night the vans with the Southern contingent arrived,” said Cheryl Philhower-Gillick of Scotch Plains, N.J. “Instantly we had a full drum corps!” Philhower-Gillick started in 1975 with The Cadets feeder corps, the Plebes, and became a member of the Garfield colorguard from 1978 until 1985. “It was a tremendous recruiting effort by George and Jim Paradise!”

In 1980, the drummer Dane DuFour was a student at the University of Mississippi when he decided to take the trip up to Garfield. Aging out that year, he wanted to march somewhere and the Stardusters, his corps of five years, had just announced it wasn’t fielding a corps that summer.

But would the kids up in North Jersey 1,200 miles away welcome this influx of southerners?

“They embraced us. It was truly an instant and permanent bond. We understood that these were hardcore drum corps veterans who had competed at the top of our activity and we were given a chance to be a part of it,” DuFour said.

Work. Then work some more!

If an unusual recruiting drive that saved a corps from extinction didn’t get fans talking about the Garfield Cadets that summer, then the Cinderella story that played out in June through August certainly did! The early weeks were grueling as this mostly rookie group pieced together their show.

“We pretty much started fresh in June with a brand new drum corps,” said George Hopkins.

“The [Southern] kids were amazing. With the help of some very committed vets and staff, they were worked into the show during the early season, often standing on the front sideline playing the charts for which they had not learned the drill,” said Zampetti. The judging community criticized the corps for the atypical practice, saying the members weren’t getting the full experience of drum corps.

But within time, all were weaved into the show. They worked long, difficult rehearsal hours and Doc Santos’ philosophy of members striving for their personal best with every performance took hold as the Garfield Cadets dramatically began improving their score.

“Back then, there was a two-week break in between first and second tours. When we came back after break, I have never seen a corps work harder and improve their score and placement in DCI so quickly,” DuFour said. “We never really understood what was happening that season, but we could feel something special. We knew, but refused to recognize it until the morning of prelims in Birmingham when our score was announced."

With a score of 81.45, the Garfield Cadets were back in finals.

1980 garfield cadets

Much more than scores

It never was, or is, about scores. Ask any Cadet today, or a member who wore the uniform in 1934, 1970, 2011, or anywhere in between. It isn’t a score that’s treasured. What prevails is the emotion, passion and a sense of family that comes after spending a summer wearing Maroon and Gold.

For DuFour, it’s the pinch yourself, surreal feeling of rehearsing in a Hackensack, N.J., parking lot with the New York City skyline in the background. Or the care and affection of the local families — such as the Philhowers or the Apprecinos — who opened their homes to the Southern members.

Zampetti will never forget the sense of accomplishment that came with keeping the “always” in “For Holy Name Shall Always Be…” And as Philhower-Gillick points out, the 1980 corps was really only together a full two months but still, many of those friendships endure and remain special today.

Thirty-two years later, if DuFour could go back, what would he change?

“Not a thing. Except maybe find a way to freeze the time and make it last that much longer.”

 

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