New OSU band director living out the ‘Script’ of a lifetime
By Kyle RowlandPublished September 1, 2012
Nov. 21, 1998.
Ohio State student Jon Waters awoke early that morning, darkness still blanketing a crisp Central Ohio. Many thoughts went through his mind as he walked to the city’s most iconic structure, Ohio Stadium.
It’s an annual day in which time stands still for two Midwestern cities – Columbus and Ann Arbor. On this late November afternoon, their two universities would wage their annual war, the winner of which a perennial contender for the national title.
In terms of football glory, “The Game” is as grand a stage as it gets.
Childhood dreams would be fulfilled for one side with a win over their archrivals, but someone else would also live out a dream that day on the banks of the Olentangy River.
The Buckeyes won that day, defeating Michigan 31-16. But that wasn’t where Waters’ fulfillment came from.
Instead, it came from dotting the ‘i’ in Script Ohio.
“I felt a great responsibility because there were so many wonderful people that had gone before me,” he said. “On that day the “i” was going to be on me, to carry on that tradition.”
The notion of Waters achieving his lifelong dream had just years earlier seemed so far-fetched. Growing up in the small village of Elmore in Northwest Ohio, he had a keen vision of his post-high school plans. While so many Buckeyes in this state dream of silver helmets, Waters set his sights on Script Ohio.
“I was a junior high student who played the tenor saxophone, and my band director told me, ‘If you want to go to Ohio State you can’t play tenor sax; the band is all brass,’” he said. “So I picked up the sousaphone, and it was a dream of mine to come to Ohio State and dot the ‘i’.”
Those blueprints took a detour, though, when Waters tried out for the OSU band his first year on campus, only to be summarily dismissed. Undeterred, he devoted himself to practicing until the following season’s tryouts. It paid off. From 1995-1998, Waters was a member of “The Best Damn Band In The Land,” with the culmination of years of practice taking place that day in November, the final home game of his senior season.
“It was a surreal experience,” Waters said. “I remember it was a perfect November football day in Ohio: a bit overcast with a cool snap to the air. I remember very distinctly getting to the top of the small ‘o’ and hearing the crowd swell. I’m not sure how many steps I took to the top of the ‘i’, but if I could have flown I’m sure I would have.”
Nearly 14 years later, Waters’ dreams will get to take flight once again, this time on every home game Saturday. Waters will enter the 2012 football season as just the ninth director in the 135-year history of the OSU marching band. His position comes with the title of interim director, but the former 10-year assistant director is expected to shed the “interim” label after a national search is conducted. Waters replaces Dr. Jon Woods, who served as the longest-tenured director in the band’s history at 25 years.
“My journey was interesting because I was cut from the band the first time I tried out,” Waters said. “For the past 10 years as the assistant director, I’ve been giving that speech to a room full of students who are in tears because they haven’t made the band. I’ve been giving that same speech about my life experiences.
“As I did, and many before me and many others after me, I tried out again and dedicated myself to making the band and was fortunate to make it. It’s been a wonderful ride ever since. Had I guessed 15 years ago that I would be in this position, I think that would have been very idealistic.”
Waters begins his tenure at the same time the football program ushers in a new head coach. And, as any Buckeye knows, the connection between Best Damn Band and ballgame is intimate.
“It’s great to be part of that fabric and the color and pageantry that is collegiate football,” Waters said. “The band is the special element that makes our game day experience in college football unique. It just is something that makes a college game so very special and especially special at Ohio State. It’s our brand. Script Ohio is certainly associated with college football and Ohio State football, but it’s more than that. It goes way beyond football. It’s the signature for the university and the state of Ohio.”
Steeped in tradition and excellence, the two most recognizable elements of the university will start new chapters this fall, but remain tied to their pasts.
“One of my guiding principles and mottos is ‘Tradition Through Innovation,’” Waters said. “If you think about those three words, it harkens to maintaining the traditions that we have while still being innovative. Script Ohio at one time was new and innovative and then become a wonderful tradition. The same can be said for the ramp entrance and Hang On Sloopy. We’ve constantly been looking for new and innovative ways to remain on the cutting edge.”
This fall, one man will walk down the ramp in the north end of Ohio Stadium while another will run down a tunnel in the southeast corner, both sharing a common bond as new leaders of leading iconic college football entities.