As Ohioans, we all take pride in being members of the Buckeye State.
Much of that pride comes with being an Ohio State University football fan, if you are one. It is a legacy that, as we can all attest to, is home to rich tradition and history.
Another part of that great tradition is The Ohio State Marching Band, known to some as “The Best Damn Band in the Land.”
The man who now has the honor of leading the Ohio State band every Saturday during football season is Elmore native and 1994 Woodmore High graduate Jon Waters, Jr.
Waters took over as the interim director in August when his mentor, Dr. Jon Woods, director of the band since 1984, retired.
“I was approved by President Gordon Gee as the interim director and hopefully the interim title will fall away if we don't misspell Ohio (at halftime),” Waters joked. “I'm very fortunate to have been given this opportunity and I don't take that for granted. I've been given a great opportunity and I look forward to being a steward in this position. One of the great things about the Ohio State band is that in 140 years of history, there have only been nine directors. It's the longevity of the folks that have come before me that have made this (program) so successful.”
Waters has come a long way in his journey to becoming the school's band director, one that actually saw him fail to earn spot on the band in 1994 as a freshman student. However, he persevered and came back the following year, earning a spot with the band where he played the sousaphone.
“I remember that at the time, I had so much great community support (in the Woodmore district),” he said. “Howard Williams was my band director and DeLee Egert, they were behind me 110 percent and (so were) all the teachers and classmates. I remember having that feeling that I had a lot of support. I was devastated when I didn't make it (but) I had equal support from people when I didn't make it as when I did (the next year) — it was very encouraging. I worked really hard and came back the second year and made (the squad).”
On Nov. 21, 1998, he was given the honor and distinction of dotting the “I” at halftime of the Ohio State-Michigan game in front of 94,339 fans.
After graduation, he took a graduate assistant position with the band and, after receiving his Master's Degree in 2002, was fortunate enough to earn a spot as the assistant band director.
Waters spoke about the chance he got to meet and speak with new football coach Urban Meyer, a former Bowling Green coach, back in January.
“I get a phone call and it was Urban Meyer and he said he wanted to talk about the band and the tradition. We sat down and chatted for an hour about the band and the traditions (at) Ohio State. He (told me) he had been comfortable being out of coaching and working with ESPN, but one of the main reasons he came to Ohio State is because (of the tradition.) We talked about the tradition the band brings to the games. What I took from our conversation is that he gets the big picture — he gets what the band brings and the pageantry (of it all).
“He related a story to me (at) our meeting (that) one of the best memories he spoke of. It was in '87, Earle Bruce's last game as head coach when Ohio State beat Michigan, and he showed me a picture of himself (Meyer) and his father, Bud, holding up a “4,” the signal for the band to play ‘Hang on, Sloopy’ just before the beginning of the fourth quarter.”
Waters noted that it is a particularly special memory for Meyer because his father died in November, just before he took over as head coach.
Waters speaks highly about the experiences he had growing up in Elmore that helped to shape him as a person and mold his perspective on music.
“Unlike a lot of my classmates who were listening to some of the grunge bands of the late '80s and early '90s, I had an eclectic mix – classic, jazz, rock 'n' roll, oldies, Michael Jackson. I just had a wide variety of musical tastes and I think that helped shape my (musical perspective).”
While a student at Woodmore, Waters was a part of the band, choir, the National Honor Society and also ran on the track and cross-country teams, but not well, he jokingly notes.
“I was involved in a lot of different (organizations) at Woodmore,” said Waters. “It made me better-rounded. I think growing up at Woodmore High was wonderful for my life journey, especially in a small school (where) the student body is involved in a lot of different things.”
Despite being associated with the band for 18 years, Waters says he tries to maintain a proper perspective.
“It's a wonderful thing to be a part of,” he said. “My office is in Ohio Stadium — I think a lot of people would love that opportunity. I'm still, in some respects, in a surreal state of mind — I get to be a part of this whole (tradition). You take a step back and think, this wonderful institution is mine to guard and protect and to make better. I'm just very fortunate to have the opportunity to do this.”