The Drummer Who Fell for the Guard Girl

Cadets Couples: Michael and Stephanie McKenna

Michael is originally from Novi, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. Growing up, he loved two things: music and sports. He began taking piano lessons at the tender age of five and continued to study through high school. Michael competed in many local achievement award competitions during his childhood and teenage years. His favorite sports were hockey, baseball, basketball and tennis.

Stephanie was born at the United States Air Force base in Agana Heights, Guam, where her father was stationed at the time. When she was a year old, Stephanie’s family moved to Ohio, and eventually to Carlisle, PA, where she attended middle and high school.

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Even before she started school, Stephanie loved music and dance. She took dance lessons from age 4 until she was 17, and she excelled in tap, jazz, ballet and modern dance. She joined band in middle school and played the flute from sixth to tenth grade. She also sang in her high school choir from her sophomore to senior year.

Stephanie Cadets 2003.jpgStephanie joined colorguard a year early in eighth grade, with the Cumberland Valley High School Indoor Guard and went on to participate in her high school’s colorguard and indoor guard. During her senior year, she toured Europe for three weeks with the American Music Abroad colorguard program.

In middle school, Michael became a percussionist. He went on to march in the tenor line at Novi High School and was also a member of Novi’s state-championship indoor drumline. He was also co-captain of the varsity tennis team during his senior year.

In 1999, Stephanie joined the colorguard of the Harrisburg Westshoremen, a DCA senior corps which won best colorguard at DCA Championships that year.

After graduating high school, she studied nursing at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where she continued with colorguard in the IUP Marching Band for two years.

In 2002, she auditioned for The Cadets and made it.

Michael’s experiences with his incredible teachers and fellow musicians inspired him to join the drum corps activity. “I began my drum corps experience in 2001 with a small corps out of Wisconsin called The Americanos,” he said.

After a successful first season, one of his instructors asked him to audition for the Colts. He earned a spot in the Colts’ tenor line 2002.Mike Cadets 2003.jpg

“All summer, I watched The Cadets and was absolutely amazed by the level of excellence they achieved,” he said.

That year, two members of The Cadets’ drumline were from Michigan – Troy Wiegand and the late Nick Saputo. Michael had marched with Nick in the Americanos in 2001, and watching him perform in the then eight-time-world-champion Cadets inspired him to try out.

“Nick urged me to audition for The Cadets in 2003, and his dad, Sam Saputo, who volunteered for The Cadets, drove Troy, Nick and me to the audition camp.”

After an intense audition process and several trips to New Jersey, Michael earned a spot in The 2003 Cadets’ tenor line, known to its members as the “qb” or “Quads of Bergen.”

Michael was the drummer who fell for the guard girl.

“The first time I saw Stephanie was at the last April camp before move-ins in 2003,” he said. “The first time we really met was at the move-in camp in May of 2003 at Pennsville High School in New Jersey. She was walking through the gym, and we made eye contact and smiled at each other. I was nervous because she was a vet and I was a rookie, but my fellow drummers helped give me the confidence to talk to her,” he said.

After long days of rehearsal during spring training, Michael and Stephanie exchanged back massages and grew to be close friends in the cabins of Camp Pontiac, while studying their music and drill.

Stephanie had already agreed to be someone else's seat partner, but Michael became determined to change her mind. Thankfully, he succeeded.

“I talked her into being my bus seat partner, and we became a ‘couple.’ We clicked instantly and helped and supported each other through the tough days of tour,” he said.

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The Cadets won a bronze medal at the 2003 DCI World Championships in Orlando, along with the Fred Sanford High Percussion Award – one of Michael's crowning achievements to this day.

“The experience of living with over 100 people and working with them every day to achieve a common goal is a challenging undertaking,” Michael said. “Add to that the physical and mental demands of what it takes to perform in DCI at the highest level, and one can begin to understand what a life-changing experience it is.”

After the summer, Stephanie went home to Harrisburg, PA, and Michael returned to Detroit. They would drive the eight hours to see each other on weekends and relied on phone and internet conversations between visits. The couple aged out together as Cadets in 2004.

After aging out of The Cadets in 2004, Michael joined the Rhythm X Indoor Percussion Ensemble, taking second place at the WGI World Championships in 2005 and 2006. He went on to teach Rhythm X 2007 and helped them become the first independent indoor drumline to tour Europe. He also taught Redline Percussion in 2008 and 2009, helping them earn a spot in WGI Independent World Class Finals in their first two competitive seasons. He has worked with many high schools in southeast Michigan and provided private instruction to students in the metro-Detroit area.

Michael has a degree from Oakland Community College and has studied political science and philosophy at Michigan State University and the University of Michigan-Dearborn.

Stephanie graduated from IUP with a BSN in Nursing and began her career on the Cardio-thoracic post-op floor at Harrisburg Hospital in 2006.

In 2007, Michael and Stephanie had been dating for over four years when Stephanie finally moved to Michigan and began working on the Medical Intensive Care Unit at William Beaumont Hospital-Royal Oak. They have been inseparable ever since, as they help each other meet each one of life's challenges head-on.

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On November 20, 2009, exactly six and a half years after they started dating, Michael took Stephanie on a date to Coach Insignia, the four-star restaurant at the top of the Renaissance Center, the tallest building in Detroit. After dinner, Michael professed his love to Stephanie and told her that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her. She felt the same way, and they were married a year and a half later.

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The McKennas’ wedding ceremony was held on the shores of Lake Erie at The Lodge at Geneva on the Lake on Saturday, May 21, 2011. The music for the ceremony was performed by Irish musician, Brian Bigley.

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Michael and Stephanie on a gondola ride in Venice, during their 12-day Grand Mediterranean Cruise for their honeymoon.

While their years of marching in The Cadets are now a fond but distant memory, Michael and Stephanie continue to cherish the values they learned in the corps which first knit them together as a couple.

“The Cadets experience has affected my life in many ways, most importantly in teaching me values that lead to success and fulfillment in life,” Michael said. “Learning to build bonds of trust and unity with your fellow section members teaches you how to work with anyone in life. Overcoming physical challenges helps you learn how to foster optimism and motivation and passion for your goals. But overall, it teaches you the ability to persevere. I have undergone many challenges in my life since I aged out of The Cadets. Many were more difficult than I could have ever imagined. I don't think I could have gotten through them if I didn't learn the skill of perseverance from The Cadets. The simple fact that no matter what happens in life to knock you down, you have to get back up and fight back.”

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