The official history of our junior corps and alumni corps was written by Pat Forker, George Lavelle and Bert Lynch, with additional contributions by Jim Reilly and Tom Pohl. Special thanks to Steve Vickers and Drum Corps World for sharing with us!
There was a time when drum & bugle corps were plentiful across the United States and Canada. Drum corps were organized as a character-building endeavor that would teach people to work together in a common goal and forge lasting friendships. It seems like every VFW Post, American Legion Post, and Catholic Church had one. Bayonne, NJ was no stranger to having a renowned drum corps in its midst. St. Vincent's Cadets (formed 1941) put Bayonne on the map for drum corps audiences across the northeast and were a force to be reckoned with. St. Vincent's traveled across the country to take on the big corps of the day in major competitions, notching wins at the VFW National and American Legion National championships. They were the popular musical organization of Bayonne for decades. But in time, their membership faded and they were forced to close their doors for good in the 1960s. But they left an impact on the memories of Bayonne's residents. A new corps would soon emerge to carry the banner of Bayonne forward.
In the spring of 1964, Father Joseph Donovan was assigned as assistant pastor at St. Andrew's parish in Bayonne, NJ. With his appointment, came changes. He remodeled the old school building, morphing it into a youth center, made the basement pine room a point place for dances and recreation and converted the third floor into a widely used meeting place. With the advent of Donovan and being known for having the largest dances in the area, The Catholic Youth Organization's popularity soared.
Despite what he had already built, Donovan was thinking bigger. He asked several times if we would be interested in a St. Andrew's drum corps. The idea was finally brought up at a CYO meeting in Jan. 1965, meeting praise and enthusiasm. Several months later, horns arrived, drum sticks were distributed and the color guard began regular gym practices. Every corps needs a director, an adult to direct traffic, put out fires and lead the troops. Ed Holmes, director since day one, was a surrogate father. It's a known fact that he put plenty of his own money into the corps. He was always there, spending countless hours of time on us. He didn't have kids of his own, but took great satisfaction in the personal achievements of each and every one of us. Several months later, the Bridgemen came to be. The name was chosen based on the Fort Lee Bridgemen, named for the George Washington Bridge. According to Fr. Donovan, who also favored the Fort Lee athletic teams, St. Andrew's would be named for the Bayonne Bridge; thus giving birth to the Bridgemen. Under Holmes, interest in the corps was heightened and turnout became so large, horns had to be shared. The first instructors were Dee Kazazian, horns; Dan Raymond, drums and Bob Holton, color guard. Due to job conflicts, Kazazian and Raymond fell by the wayside and were replaced by Gus Wilke, horns and John Iglasies teaching the drum line. Iglasies lasted only two months before receiving a fellowship and was replaced by his mentor, Bobby Thompson in 1966. Members of the new corps had no musical training as this corps was starting from scratch. But they were a close-knit group of kids who took pride in their neighborhood. Drums were borrowed from the Garfield Cadets (maroon color airbrushed on a wood shell), while the horns were GD single-valve bugles. The St. Andrew's drum corps made their first appearance at the Bayonne Memorial Day parade in 1965. The color guard marched - minus equipment and uniforms, but this was only the beginning. Tuxedos were the corps first interim uniform in the autumn of 1965, rented for a parade, while the color guard used uniforms borrowed from Father Nativo of the St. Lucy's Cadets, with flags borrowed from the New York Skyliners.
A fundraiser was put together as a stage presentation called "Heaven's A' Poppin", featuring corps members and church members, which helped to further draw together support from family and the church community. The corps made its first field appearance marching an exhibition at a Jets intra-squad game. That day was also the first field appearance of Quarterback Joe Namath. The corps first true uniform was garnet (maroon) and white colored, made of 100% wool, with silver cumberbund and accessories. The first member jacket was garnet wool with white leather sleeves; the first corps logo was a patch, featuring the Bayonne Bridge, stitched on the back. August of 1966 marked the Bridgemen's first appearance in the National Dream Contest at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City. Because August was prime time for vacationing, the corps performed an exhibition with a mere 20 horns, a handful of drummers and a full color guard. Surprisingly, the performance was clean. During the winter of 1966-1967, the corps competed in standstills in Staten Island, NY and Montvale, NJ, placing second and fourth. That winter, Bob "Jomba" O'Connor was brought in to work the drum line as only he could.
The first true competition for St. Andrew's was a Garden State Circuit contest at Kane stadium in Secaucus, NJ. St. Andrew's took their lumps, gaining experience and a lesson in humbleness, in a number of competitions and finally became worthy of competition. The Bridgemen placed first and won several more contests that year in the Garden State, later placing third in the championship circuit contest. After some hard work and some very good arrangements by Bucky Swan, The Bridgemen won the Garden State circuit in 1968. As St. Andrew's improved, their feeder corps, The St. Andrew's Kidets did as well. The Kidets, of junior high age, were taught the basics and performed in parades. Started in 1966, the Kidets program was finally starting to pay off, furnishing The Bridgemen with trained, enthusiastic musicians.
Corps colors changed to yellow, gold, black and white when the Bridgemen purchased uniforms from the recently folded Selden Cadets of Long Island. These attention-getting, dignified uniforms set the new Bridgemen image for many years to come. The drumline and hornline wore a pale yellow jacket with gold accents and a gold shako; a military style in the mold of the West Point Cadet uniform. The color guard wore satin, pale yellow gaucho tops accented with gold chevrons, plus black skirts and black, leather boots, with the same shako. The new look was a morale booster and helped the corps to expect more of themselves. St. Andrew's played "Step to the Rear" , "Yankee Doodle" , "Grand Old Flag" , "Little Brown Jug" , "Birth of The Blues" , and "What Now my Love" which was standard musical fare of the era. St. Andrew's continued their ambitious climb within the activity, winning the Garden State Circuit with a score of 71.6 in finals.
The Bridgemen developed a talent for a brass tonguing technique called triple-tonguing. Begun as a warm-up exercise, it quickly developed into a showpiece and later become a St. Andrew's trademark and a crowd favorite. After winning the Garden State circuit for the second year in a row in 1969, the corps had moved up through the ranks and began to compete on a national level. Members of the Bridgemen were passionate about protecting their own: Bert Lynch stated,
"The Father Donovan pic from the 1969 Garden State Championship in September, 2 weeks after Wildwood. Right as that picture was being taken a fight broke out with St. Martin's. Both Drum Majors got hit, the girl Peggy Feehan's hair was pulled, the priest slugged somebody, and the fight was on!"
Stories of fights between corps were common back then as corps, who molded themselves in the military model, poked fun of their competitors as much as sailors and Marines poke fun of each other.
The winter of 1970 brought Hy Dreitzer, arranger for the New York Skyliners, and lots of hard work. Hy Dreitzer was a renowned arranger/instructor for many hornlines across the northeast "back in the day." He gave tirelessly of himself and received little or no pay with the simple goal of furthering the activity. His influence gave every corps he worked with an edge. Dreitzer wrote difficult music for the Bridgemen which challenged them to work harder. The horn line practiced several nights a week and all day Sunday under Gus Wilke, to learn to play the music. That year St. Andrew's competed in Open Class winning a few shows and marching in many parades. Being a local corps, we picked up several jobs in a few hours notice - especially around Election Day - in Bayonne, Jersey City, Hoboken, anywhere. From Little League parades to political parades, if they had the cash, we had the shoe leather. The previous set of uniforms were worn out so the corps changed over to uniform tops (made locally) in a white & gold gaucho-style with black pants and a shako featuring an American Eagle. The uniforms would only be used for one season. This year was a big step up for the corps, as audiences were taking notice of the ambitious yellow & black corps from Bayonne, NJ. In 1970, St. Andrew's placed tenth in the World Open in Lynn, MA.
During the 1971 season, we had a slightly smaller horn line and corps. Frank Pacillo was brought in as an assistant instructor, helping clean up the horn line. The same year, Larry Kerchner was brought in to arrange for the horn line. Larry had made a name for himself with the famed Blue Rock of Wilmington, Delaware. He was the "wonder child" of the corps who had great playing ability (playing soprano, mellophone, flugel, baritone, and contra) and went on to write many of their arrangements. 1971 was the toughest season yet. Practicing four nights a week and weekends, the corps was brought further, competing in the U.S. Open in Marion, Ohio. The corps was determined to pull themselves up into the thick of things and would not settle for less. The corps was able to raise the money to have the Selden Cadets-style uniform professionally recreated: the pale yellow-beige cadet jacket was now worn by horns, drums, and guard; yet the cymbals continued to wear the 1970 gaucho-style tops. The new uniforms gave them a winning look and made the corps recognizable to audiences again.
In 1972, St. Andrew's competed locally and toured New England. We also competed in the Midwest, visiting Ohio, Wisconsin, Chicago and Minneapolis. That same year, The Bridgemen earned a charter membership into the newly formed Drum Corps International and place 11th at DCI finals at Warhawk Stadium in Whitewater, WI. By virtue of its 12th place position in the prelims, they thus had the distinction of being the first corps to compete in a DCI finals. Jerry Morecraft was promoted to drum major from the baritone line. John Richard also traded in his yellow and black uniform for a white one and stepped up to the podium as drum major. The dynamic opener of "Triumphant March" excited audiences while "Mister Clown" made wide-eyed believers of many with its triple-tonguing passages. Drum Corps World Publisher Steve Vickers recalls,
"I couldn't help thinking back to a steamy night in August 1972, as I walked down a sidewalk separating eight lighted practice fields in Whitewater, WI, at the first Drum Corps International Championships. There were eight corps practicing that evening simultaneously and the last one on the left -- as my friend Orlin Wagner and I strolled along like we were window-shopping, was a corps with triple-tonguing sopranos and checkered flags. It was the St. Andrew's Bridgemen from Bayonne, NJ, a corps I honestly had never heard of before, given my isolated sort of existence from 1965 to 1987. And at the legendary Warhawk Stadium on that Saturday, August 18, the Bridgemen not only made a name for themselves with their melodious and challenging Kerchner arrangements, but earned an eleventh-place spot in the very first international competition the fledgling DCI organization ran right next to farm land at the edge of town."
The summer tour of 1972 was dubbed the "Two Weeks Tour" by corps members, St. Andrew's competed in American Legion and VFW Nationals, finishing up the season by winning the American Legion state championship in Wildwood, NJ.
The Bridgemen enhanced their repertoire for the 1973 season by introducing their trademark opener "William Tell Overture", followed by "Unsquare Dance performed in 5/3 time. "My Favorite Things"and "Free" featuring the golden tone and range of soloist Ed Irwin) and "Summer of '42" capped off a diverse and imaginative musical show that saw them defend their NJ State VFW and American Legion State Championships, secure their first World Open title and earn a 9th place finish at the DCI finals that year. The drum corps rivalries on the field in the East were intense between the corps and the 27th Lancers, Hawthorne Muchachos, Garfield Cadets, St. Rita's Brassmen, Golden Knights, Polish Falcons and Boston Crusaders. It was all too common to have 2-3 competitions every weekend beginning Memorial Day weekend through mid-September, with parades thrown in for good measure as a required source of revenue. The St. Andrew's Bridgemen were at the top of their game and 1973 was likely the strongest year of what's referred to as "The Shako Era". They were gaining the devotion of fans nationwide who knew they would enjoy a demanding show when the Bridgemen took the field. The triple-tounguing sopranos and the clean rifle line (nicknamed the "Dugans" after the popular Dugan girls in the line) could always please an audience. The two week tours were becoming commonplace by then, enticing the involved youth and chaperones to give up their time and vacations to travel the country by bus, sleep on gymnasium floors, exist on meager morsels and rehearse for hours on end and enjoy every minute of the experience. By the end of the 1973 season many of the original members had aged out, and other long term members elected to pursue other interests. There was a change in staff as well, with those original instructors not being rehired. This left the corps with an immediate deficit in talent that was only partially supplemented by those feeder corps additions, as well as new members that joined the ranks from other smaller competing corps in the area.
The 1974 show featured the return of some popular charts plus some new ones: "Triumphant March", "Oye Mama", "I Can Do Anything Better Than You", "My Favorite Things", "Free", and "William Tell Overture". The 1974 season was not as successful as the previous two years. Despite an early season victory at the NJ State VFW Championship, victories that year were few and far between, the level of competitiveness was not as sharp the rest of the season which culminated in a disappointing 26th place finish at the 1974 DCI prelims in Ithaca, NY.
The exodus of talent continued into the next season. Changes in staff were continuous to the point that at the end of the season the corps was basically self-taught. The last place finish at the 1975 Dream Contest was the nadir of the corps existence. The Bridgemen elected not to travel to Philadelphia to compete at the DCI preliminaries. Summoning the very last vestiges of pride, the corps conducted a work weekend prior to the September NJ American Legion competition so as to break a score of 70. That was the only goal accomplished in 1975. The winter of 1975-76 was one of intense soul searching for the organization. The demographics in the drum corps activity were changing. No longer was St. Andrew's Parish the lifeline for new members, although the Kidets were doing their best to promote their members into the ranks. Increasingly, the corps membership roster was becoming more reliant on new members from not only "out of town", but out of state. Our affiliation with St. Andrew Church was waning, as financial hard times across the country was taking its toll on arts programs in many forms. The Bridgemen had to scramble to find new avenues of fundraising. Ed Holmes and Father Donovan, along with the support of the Bridgemen Booster organization, decided to roll the dice and give it one more go to secure a competitive corps for 1976. It was decided that the corps would advertise in local newspapers and drum corps publications and hold an Open House for prospective members. Knowing that publicity alone would not be enough to retain those willing enough to join the effort, a change in direction, show design, uniform and attitude was required. Behind the scenes negotiations were under way to hire a Program Director that would not only change the direction and fortunes of the Bridgemen, but that of the activity itself.
And so it was that the Bridgemen entered the 1976 season resurrected, redefined and ready to challenge the many skeptics that lay in wait. Bobby Hoffman (a veteran instructor for the Muchachos, Garfield Cadets, and Anaheim Kingsmen) entered the picture as Show Coordinator. Bobby was something of a bohemian who was influenced by Broadway entertainment and wanted to bring that level of showmanship to the activity. He introduced the concept of "Hype!" to the Bridgemen as their new goal: turn up the intensity and max out the show. Bobby also talked about "karma" and said, "You get back what you put out". These hallmark concepts would transform the Bridgemen into performing a demanding show well while "Giving it all ya got". Members would perform with every ounce of energy they could muster so everyone had a good time. Under the tutelage of Bobby Hoffman, a major overhaul was completed, discarding the cadet uniform of the past and introducing the look of the future in the guise of the long coats and felt hats with scarves, the only commonality being that the traditional colors of black, white and yellow were maintained. The winter season had yielded dividends in the form of increased interest and new recruits from the NY/NJ metropolitan area, as well as those from as far as Tennessee, Florida and North Carolina. Alumni pitched in by working the Friday night bingo at Charity Hall. The percussion section would be directed by the very capable Dennis DeLucia. Dennis had made a name for himself arranging for and instructing the Hawthorne Muchachos. He had a reputation for arranging & instructing to the best of his ability and was an inspired choice to turn around the drumline's fortunes. The color guard was reborn working under Tom Pratt. The drill instructors, Greg Pych and Jim Messina, worked closely with Hoffman to bring the design on paper to fruition on the field. The wildly abstract "Pollution Flag" made it clear this corps was progressive and breaking with convention. Then color guard Captain Claire Kronenfeld explained the symbolism:
"Hoffman wanted a flag that represented Bayonne. The blue outlined curves were an abstracted Bayonne Bridge while the other shapes represented pollution in the bay!"
Among the guard's innovations was a costume change. During the closer of "One", some girls took off the black coats, to reveal a red & silver costume beneath, and formed a Broadway-style kick line! The discarded coats were hung on a hook, placed at the back of horn players' uniforms, to avoid a penalty in the old judging system. Larry Kerchner, with an influx of renewed talent, had free reign to write a score that offered imagination and modernity to the show that featured a revamped "William Tell Overture", "NYC Medley", "Land of Make Believe" featuring the silky smooth soprano solo of Keith Warfield, plus "What I Did For Love", and "One" from the Broadway hit "A Chorus Line". The corps marched in the local Memorial Day Parade wearing pale yellow member jackets instead of uniforms, choosing to save their new look for the home show in Bayonne. New member jackets proclaimed "Bridgemen" on the back instead of "St. Andrew's". On the first Saturday in June, at the "Tournament of Stars", Veterans Stadium, Bayonne, New Jersey, the 1976 corps made its first appearance in the new attire, entering from the rear sideline with police escort, in front of the home town crowd who were equally shocked at the sight that paraded before them. It took a while for the partisans to adjust to the new visual creation before them, but soon thereafter, it was apparent that the drum corps activity itself had witnessed its own transformation. The corps struggled at first against the solid and strong competition from its rivals during the first half of the season. Early in the 1976 season, many judges resisted giving good scores to the corps, until finally they had to admit that with their talent level, they could not be denied. By early August they had finished ahead of several DCI finalist contenders, and it wasn't until the week before finals, that talk of qualifying could even be discussed. At Franklin Field, the corps performed an energized and emotional prelims performance, which landed them in eighth place, and once again restored the corps to the rank of finalist. For those remaining DCI veterans still in the ranks from the Whitewater days, the wait in the entrance tunnel before the corps 1976 Finals appearance was nothing short of a sense of redemption. On the video of the corps' DCI Finals performance, laughing can be heard from some in the audience who were seeing the outrageous yellow and black uniforms for the first time. The corps was lined up on "Side One" to start the show "Off The Line", in the old drum corps style. As the timing gun went off to begin the show, the corps yelled "Hype!" and let loose a spirited performance of the challenging "William Tell Overture" to show them what the Bridgemen were made of. The sixteenth note runs played at double forte was astounding. At the end of the opener, no one in the crowd was laughing anymore; wild cheers and applaud heralded a new age for the corps from Bayonne as well as the activity! The roar of acceptance permeated the stadium and the corps responded in kind, adding the signature "faint" to cap their sixth place 1976 DCI Finals performance. In the upcoming months Father Donovan would be reassigned from St. Andrew's and be named pastor at St. John the Evangelist, in Bergenfield, NJ. Shortly after the announcement was made, the corps and the parish ended their affiliation. Father Donovan saw the corps that he started return to the national competitive arena, and for the "kids" who grew up with him through the ranks of the Kidets and Bridgemen, we were sorry to see him depart having been our biggest supporter in both good times and bad.
The corps moved away from high leg lifts and snap turns, steering the corps away from the activity's military roots toward a smoother, gliding movement. The "Rainbow Flags" were introduced by the color guard and were later wrapped around the chrome drums for colorful impact. Diane Brady became Color Guard Captain and first donned the white coat. Lower brass member Pat Forker played the part of a traffic-ticket-writing cop with a STOP sign during "NYC Medley". The Bayonne Bridgemen were serious title contenders in 1977. The corps' show started off with "Yes, We Have No Bananas" drum solo, along with "Pagliacci" as the opener, complete with the operatic tragic clown in tow. Jim Brady, arguably one of the finest horn players in drum corps history, was the featured solo soprano. The Bridgemen won the World Open and DCI East titles, before heading out west to tour enroute to Denver. After their announced 3rd place prelims performance, several members were singled out by DCI personnel, with the full support of some DCI member corps directors, where the persons under scrutiny were declared ineligible subjecting the corps to disqualification. The Bridgemen sued DCI to contest the disqualification on the grounds that there was no intent to have an overage member march beyond their 21st birthday, since the corps had replacement members on tour to take the spots of those members in question on the day prior to their birthday. A compromise was reached by which the Bridgemen were allowed to compete in the 1977 DCI finals. The day of DCI finals in Boulder, CO was a painful one for the Bridgemen as no one knew how this would turn out. But lawyers for the Bridgemen found a loophole in DCI rules that allowed the Bridgemen to take the field. The audience's resistance was met with Bayonne tenacity as the corps unleashed a powerful performance in the face of adversity. By show's end the crowd was roaring their approval and the Bridgemen proved they were one of the strongest corps in contention that night. Their score and placement would not be recognized in the DCI annals. But years later, the disqualification was rescinded and the Bridgemen are now listed as finishing in 4th place in 1977.
The stain of disqualification was difficult enough to bear, but it was uncertain if the Bridgemen could recover from such ignominy. The Hawthorne Muchachos could not fully recover from their disqualification in 1975 and never again approached that same level of championship contention. Again the members went back to that endless well of inherent pride, and wanting to prove their critics wrong as well to restore their hard earned good name, the Bridgemen returned in 1978 and finished in 5th place, the highest placement that year for an eastern drum corps. New brass-colored, two valve OLDS bugles were purchased as well as white-shelled Ludwig drums. Jim Jordan stepped up to the podium and donned the all-white uniform for the first of three seasons. The opener of "Ritual Fire Dance/Sabre Dance" demonstrated the power of the hornline as well as the up-and-coming drumline. Jim Brady's golden tone and amazing range in his soprano solos helped make the corps a must-see event. The color guard changed to dance shoes to keep up with the demanding dance moves and choreography; small black tents at the front sideline allowed for a costume change. The color guard blazed a trail in the activity by moving away from militaristic movement in favor of fluid, dance movement. The asymetric drill move during "Hymn to the Last Whale" was one of the first of its kind on the field, opening the door to a new style of visual show. The Bridgemen "Shuffle", a dance move by the hornline and color guard (originated by Tom Pratt and Mike Mercandante) was introduced in the drum solo and became a perennial favorite with audiences for years to come. Spanish Dreams was their trademark number in the repertoire that year, along with the Bridgemen Shuffle, blue cloaked rifle line and endless hyped innovations. At the end of the 1978 season, Ed Holmes retired as Director. Ed had been the only Director the corps had known since its founding in 1965. Although Ed and his wife never had children of their own, he always made it clear to the membership that they claimed 128 children when asked. Jack Dames, another Bayonne native and long time drum corps fan, succeeded Ed as Director and served in that capacity through 1981.
The Bridgemen had a rough start in 1979, but worked hard to climb back into the thick of things. The on-field antics and irreverent attitude of the Bridgemen were showcased at the National Dream Contest in Jersey City when a rainy, mud-soaked day was turned into a fun-filled festival. While some corps elected not to wear their uniforms, the Bridgemen went on without pants, but still wearing their trademark coats, and won over the audience with a spirited performance! 1979 introduced "Gene, Gene The Dancing Machine" and the Andrews Sisters to the field of drums and bugles. That year's tour took the corps south to Birmingham, AL along with the vestiges of the Northern Army of the Potomac to witness a uniquely Bridgemen rendition of the "Civil War Suite", where by chance the "rebels" emerged victorious in the Heart of Dixie and a sixth place finish, moving up three spots from ninth place in prelims. The souvenir table was a great fundraiser for the corps, sporting designs like "Banana Power" and other fan favorites. Unfortunately someone in Birmingham also noticed the Bridgemen's popularity with fans, running out of the stadium with a day's souvie profits.
"Thunder and Blazes" led the parade of circus animals onto the field in 1980, along with our mascot "Birdie" (color guard member Bernadette "Bernie" Bracero wearing a yellow, red, and blue costume). The drum solo of "The Pursuit of the Woman with the Feathered Hat" broke new ground in technical demand and showmanship while "In The Stone" would be remembered as an all-time crowd favorite. "Big Noise From Winnetka" and the return of "Civil War Suite", rounded out this amazing show that still stands out after all these years. Jim Prime stepped up as brass caption head (Prime later made a name for himself with The Garfield Cadets and Star of Indiana). The Bridgemen wrested their fifth World Open title, dueling the 27th Lancers for eastern supremacy and keeping close tabs on the Blue Devils with the Spirit of Atlanta in hot pursuit. The DCI finals saw the top four corps separated by less than 2 points, the Blue Devils emerging victorious, 27th Lancers a few tenths behind in second, the Bridgemen a few tenths behind 27th Lancers placing third, their highest finish in DCI Finals history. The Bridgemen drum line won their first of three successive high percussion awards that year with hopes high for things to come in 1981. Drum Captain Donald Mindiak led a line of drummers filled with a fiery determination to win. Instructors Bob Dubinski and Pat Scollin were important parts of the drumline's success. Their discipline, motivational abilities, and emphasis on technique with perfection helped set in motion a 3-year Bridgemen drum dynasty in DCI. The 1980 Bridgemen were at the zenith of their popularity. They knew how to have fun, but had the tenacity to work hard to achieve their goals. Many words are synonymous with "the Bananas" in their best years: unique, groundbreaking, zany, outlandish. Some say they revolutionized the activity, while others resisted their show style and influence on other corps shows. But one thing was certain, The Bridgemen were out to give any audience a good time by connecting with them and performing an accessible show anyone could relate to. The music, uniforms, wicked drumline, and gimmicks they're remembered for were secondary to The Bridgemen Attitude that people remember fondly: a reckless commitment to entertaining.
After a very successful 3rd place finish in 1980, there were high expectations for the corps in 1981. Having missed a win at DCI finals the previous year by just tenths of a point, Bobby Hoffman was determined to make a run at the title. But disagreements between Bobby Hoffman, the Board of Directors, administration, and support staff on how to accomplish this, hobbled the lofty goal. The one factor that contributed to an underachieving 1981 season can be attributed to a change in corps chemistry. Gone were those members who had been with the corps when it was Saint Andrew's. In their place were members who had come to the Bridgemen from other corps, taught different methods as to those familiar with the Bridgemen way. This culture gap led to repeated internal disagreements among the members and between staff members. This had a pronounced effect on the corps and its performance on the field. Arguably more talented than the 1980 corps, it just didn't have the same Bridgemen magic of the previous 4 years. New yellow coats were purchased for the 64-man hornline because the 1976 coats were showing their age. Al DiCroce stepped in as brass caption head. Baritone Brian Law joined the brass staff, staying on for several years as a horn instructor. The corps kept half the show from 1980 and replaced the "Civil War Suite" with "West Side Story". Inconsistent performances were common for the corps in 1981. It was at the DCI Midwest regional held in Whitewater Wisconsin that the corps was bested for the first time since 1976 by the Garfield Cadets. The 0.5 point victory emboldened the Cadets to purposely march by the Bridgemen buses and revel in delight. This act as well as the appearance of an impaled banana caricature on their food truck at the 1981 CYO Nationals served to motivate the corps and enable others to resolve their differences. The Cadets did not beat the corps again that year. The Bridgemen put on a show before the show even started. The corps would diagonally enter the field in a box formation doing the Bridgemen "knock". Suddenly everyone jumped around and let mayhem ensue for 16 counts, then the box snapped back into formation at Count 1, moving the box backfield while doing the "knock" in unison. The crowd's enthusiasm was deafening! The corps finished 5th in prelims at the DCI Championship, held in Montreal, beating Phantom Regiment by 1 point. Finals were at a different site: Montreal's Olympic Stadium, which had a dome that badly muffled the hornline and turned the audience's conversations into a dull roar. Somehow the electricity that was always there between the audience and the Bridgemen was squelched. In finals, the corps did a lackluster performance losing to Phantom Regiment by .005. The corps had a .1 penalty due to a shoe coming off a member. It was a fitting way to end what had been described as a disappointing season. The percussion section, which had been the strength of the corps throughout the whole year, had the biggest highlight of the year by winning their 2nd high drums trophy. The drumline, which was even better than the 1980 year, was near the top in every show they were in. A highlight from 1981 was the corps winning their 5th World Open title (1973, 1977, 1978, 1980, & 1981). It would also be the corps last title of any kind. After the year was over, Jack Dames who became the 2nd director in corps history, resigned.
The Bridgemen drumline's popularity and supremacy in the activity helped Dennis Delucia to seal an endorsement deal to obtain a new set of black-rimmed Slingerland drums with brass trim. As the 1982 season came, gone were those members who had caused some of the internal friction of the previous season. The new rookies coming into the corps were excited to be Bridgemen and understood what it took to be a member of the Bridgemen. The members attitudes were great, with the rallying cry "The Magic Is Back". The magic was certainly back on the field. The color guard was now outfitted with tight red & silver uniforms that allowed them to perform the athletic dance steps asked of them. The opener of "Shaft" showcased the raucous enthusiasm only the Bridgemen could bring to the field. The production number of "Sophisticated Ladies", featured large tables that the color guard girls danced on in perfect unison. Soprano Kevin Serfass stealthily played the demanding solo in "It Don't Mean A Thing" that seemed to be coming from the black-clad color guard Captain Beth's horn! A popular publicity photo that year featured soprano George Lavelle atop the large table, snapping his fingers. The hypnotic drum solo of "Black Market Juggler" introduced more percussion voices with the roto toms and showcased the fast hands of our intense drumline. "Broadway Medley" featured a dynamic wedge moving forward during "New York, New York" a la The Skyliners. This was a show for the members to perform and have fun with. Audiences loved this show! The corps looked like it was headed towards a top 6 finish as Championship neared, but a so-so performance at prelims placed the corps in 9th place behind the Freelancers. True to Bridgemen style, they came out in finals to give the fans their money's worth, performing their best show of 1982. At the end of the show the corps put in the Bridgemen faint, then got up and ran off the field. The place went nuts!!! This great show and the percussion winning high drums for the 3rd year in a row, moved the corps up 1 spot past the Freelancers for 8th place. This was the first time since the corps became "the Bananas" that they were out of the top 6; a six year feat had come to an end. It didn't matter to the members. After all the problems that the corps had in 1981, it was fun to be a Bridgemen again. The percussion line of 1982 was unbelievable. Their score at Championship that year was 19.5. This tied the Hawthorne Muchachos for the highest drum score ever at Championship. At a show in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, the drums played a 1-tick show. Which in the day of the tick system, that was unheard of. Their score that day was 19.8 out of 20, which was the highest score ever for drums in the day of the tick system. The drumline was in the year 3 of their 4-year dynasty. This line of 1982 is considered by many to be the best during this run.
Many changes happened during 1983 for the corps and for drum corps in general. Bobby Hoffman, the architect of "the Bananas", and long time brass arranger Larry Kerchner were replaced with Dave Bandy and Frank Dorittie. The staff also wanted to change the corps on the field. Gone would be the gimmicks that people were so used to and in its place a show that would be more sophisticated. At the same time, DCI had decided to do away with the tick system. In its place was an opinionated system. Both of those decisions would be fatal for the corps until midseason. At the first show in Lynn, Massachusetts, the corps scored a 47.15, which was at the time the lowest score the corps ever received. Dave Bandy sought to make the Bridgemen style more palatable to judges. But membership was declining from its peak years earlier. Still, we were chock full of lively people happy to be here. The show featured the driving tempo of "Caravan" as the opener that featured a baritone quartet with John Riccardi and Jerome Kimbrough. Then "Waiting for Godot" introduced a latin flavor to the show. Dennis Delucia's "Black Market/The Juggler" drum solo again challenged the drumline to new heights. The corps is in the history books, as being the corps who had the lowest score 47.15 to start the season and still make DCI finals. The judges did not know where to put the Bridgemen in the new system. One night they had the corps up on some corps then down on others. This "up and down" was by many points. The low of this happened at the DCI Midwest Championship held in Whitewater, Wisconsin, where disaster always struck the corps. Here the corps failed to make the cut, placing 13th, losing to the Geneso Knights by 2.5. This was the first time since 1974 that the corps missed a finals show of any kind. The next night in Rockford, Illinois, the corps beat the Knights by 4 points, a 6.5 point turnaround in one night. At midseason, with the sophisticated approach not working on the field, the staff changed half the show by putting in some gimmicks and making the show more appealing to the audience. Jeff Dawson taught us the words to "So what you see is what you get, & you ain't seen nothin' yet!" which we sang coming on the field. A couple of days after the Midwest injustice, two judges came and talked to the corps and explained and apologized for the inconsistency of the system and promised that it would not happen again. The members who had dealt with all of this had the heart of a champion (which most all of the Bridgemen corps had, except for 1981), and kept working hard to make sure the corps would make finals. At the DCI championship, held in Miami that year, the corps did a good job in prelims. The corps came in 11th place ahead of the Sky Ryders and Crossmen, who the corps had battled all year. In finals, the corps put in some more gimmicks, with the Bridgemen Bird making a return by jumping out of a big present box. Also, the snare drummers put on blindfolds and played on roto toms during the fast part of their drum solo, never missing a beat. At the end of the show there was a ripple Bridgemen faint. The corps stayed in 11th place. Lost in the mix was the Color Guard's 3rd place finish. The guard led by a young gentlemen by the name of Scott Chandler, (he of Blue Devil fame) had their highest placement for a Bridgemen guard. The percussion's quest for a 4th high drum trophy ended with a 3rd place finish. This was mostly due to the corps going on so early in finals; they didn't get the score they deserved. Many believe that they were the best line in the country and should have won the title. But the Blue Devils drumline maintained their dominance in 1983 to capture high drums. This ended a remarkable 4-year percussion dynasty. This dynasty was led by their caption head and arranger Dennis DeLucia, and his right hand man Bob Dubinski. It was also supported by many other instructors and alumni who came back to help continue this dynasty for 4 years.
1984 saw another chapter of the corps come to an end. Many of the members, who had grown up in the feeder corps the Kidets, and were from Bayonne, had decided to move on to other things in their lives.
This left only a handful of people left from the great town of Bayonne, a complete reverse from when the corps was started when everyone was from Bayonne.
Once again it was decided to have the corps do a more sophisticated show instead of the gimmicks that was tried unsuccessfully in 1983; this type of show was received with more success in 1984.
The show was "Overture" from "Merrily We Roll Along", "Boogie Down", "Aw Quitcher Moanin'" (drum solo),
and "The Civil War Suite", which the corps did in 1979 & 1980. An iconic moment of the show was in the closer, when a giant American Flag was unfurled while the color guard spun their blue umbrellas with white stars.
Ray Fallon, who had taught the corps in 1977 & 1978, was brought back to run the horn program. With Ray at the helm, and the talent base better then years past, the hornline became a big asset.
Their highlight of the season was at a show held at the Meadowlands, at that show they won high horns for the first time since 1980, beating 1984's finalists Cavaliers, 27th Lancers, & Crossmen.
The corps battled 27th Lancers all year as both were fighting for one of the last spots for finals. At the DCI Midwest regional, again held at Whitewater Wisconsin, the corps missed the cutoff again as it had in 1983, placing 13th.
The corps that knocked them out was the Velvet Knights, whose philosophy was that of the Bridgemen: ENTERTAINMENT!!!
This year was also the first year the corps had their own food bus. It turned out to be a huge mistake; most of the food was left out and became rotten, leaving the corps hungry. One night on tour the corps came in from a hard day of practice and each member was served a plate of popcorn. Not only were the members in a fight to make finals, but now they did not have food. The organization could not replace the food that was lost, due to the financial troubles it was having. Other corps were helping out sending food over to the corps. It left the corps in an unstable state in the eyes of DCI. When the corps reached DCI prelims that year in Atlanta, they knew they couldn't give up. The corps did a good enough performance to get into finals, or so they thought. As the corps was getting their picture taken, their score was announced and they realized they did not make it. Shock and disbelief came over the corps. They ended up in 14th place losing to the Velvet Knights, who basically now had the identity introduced by the Bridgemen, and to the Troopers. It was a sad ending to a season that the members had fought so hard to make successful.
The rumor mills falsely claimed year after year that the Bridgemen had disbanded and it was finally catching up to them. Plus speculation about money problems meant the corps was no longer drawing the level of talent and cross-country members they once had. Most of the staff from the 1984 season, including Dennis DeLucia, who had been with the corps since 1976 were gone. Dennis would later have success with many other corps which included the Star of Indiana & Crossmen. The board brought back Bobby Hoffman. They hoped that he would be able to create the magic again as he had when he was with the corps form 1976-1982. The show that year was a great show for the Bridgemen. The show was "Christmas in July", complete with a great big Christmas box that the corps would start the show under, hornline and drumline in elf outfits and the guard in Mrs. Claus outfits. They had snowball fights, Santa Claus, and even Baby New Year. After the first half of the show, the corps changed out of their getups and back into the yellow coats. The 2nd half of the show was "Come On Dance With Me", followed by "Imagination". This corps did not have the guns to pull it off. If this show was done any other year, it would have succeeded. It was not to be. This year the corps was not very competitive. The corps finished near the bottom at every show. At a show in Waterbury CT, the corps scored a 32.40, which is the lowest score the corps had ever received. It is ironic that this would be where (just the previous year) the corps won their last show ever. The corps hit bottom at DCI East, in Allentown PA, where the corps had one of if not the greatest moments in their history in 1977 when they won the DCI East title. This year the corps had one of its worst performances ever. The corps placed 25th out of 26th. At DCI championship in Madison, the corps placed in 26th place, which was last place. The corps took the field for prelims right after the Madison Scouts, who were having a strong year. The board had made the wrong decision by not giving the staff of 1984 another year. The outcome might have been a lot better had the staff from 1984 returned. After the 1985 season, it was decided the corps would go inactive for the 1986 season.
The Bridgemen were folded for the first time in 1986 amid growing debt, a pending lawsuit and after poor numbers attended the initial rehearsals.
After a year's absence the corps started up again, being the first corps in history to come back after folding. With a new staff and a new financial backer, the corps set out to capture the magic it once had. The show this year was in 2 parts. The first was a recap of the Bridgemen's greatest hits, the 2nd part was "High Crime", The percussion feature "Mozaik', and "Motown Medley". Crowds liked the show and were very happy that the corps had made a reappearance. A meeting that was held in April that year, with administration and staff to make a decision on what division to compete in, decided the fate of the corps. The corps had only 65 members and could not compete against open corps of 128. The right decision would have had the corps compete in A-60 and go against corps the same size and re-establish the corps instead of going against the big boys and getting slaughtered. The decision was made to go Open. Ego rather than reality prevailed, the attitude that the Bridgemen should not lower themselves by being anything less than an Open corps won the day. This proved to be devastating to the corps. They were soundly defeated in every open competition. At DCI East, the corps finished in last and finished 23rd out of 24th in Quarterfinals. When you add the top 12 corps who were already into Semi's, the corps actually placed 35th. If the decision had been decided on the other path, to compete A-60 the corps might have had a chance to be Champions of A-60. Due to the corps not coming out the year before and not being a member (falling out of top 25 in 1985), the corps was forced to compete in the A-60/A-90 tour now know as the Division 2 & 3 tour. On this tour, the corps beat corps that would wind up in the top 3 of A-60, including the Mandarins, who would go on to capture the Class A-60 title that year, a week before the DCI Championships at the U.S Open competition by 7 points. This would be the Bridgemen's last show performance at DCI. This year was also the first year the corps had its own buses. The buses purchased from Avante Garde, proved to be another bad mistake made. In West Virginia, one bus that was parked came out of park and rolled down a hill into a wall. The bus was totaled. The other bus would catch fire when in park and when the gears were not shifted right to go forward. These and many other vehicle breakdowns were a regular routine for the corps. These problems contributed to the corps losing much needed practice time. This year was a very tough year on its members. What got the corps through 1987 was heart.
The corps started out with better numbers than the year before, having close to 85 kids showing up at the first camp. Buoyed by this, a more talented hornline, a more challenging brass book and more talented brass staff, many members were optimistic about their competitive chances this year, with some confident they would capture the Class A-60 Championship that year. However, The corps' numbers did not last as over the next few months the numbers started to dwindle and they started to have money problems again. The executive director informed the staff at the end of the February camp that he would be folding the corps. The staff pleaded with him to give it one more month and give the kids a chance to obtain the money that was needed to go on. He gave in and at the March camp, money was brought in by the members who, with the staff, thought they had done enough to have the corps continue. It was also decided that the corps would compete in A-60, a decision that was made a year too late. At the end of camp, the corps marched in the West Orange St. Patrick's Day parade, where the camp was held. It was here that the Bridgemen made their last public appearance, because the executive director folded the corps the next day. He just forgot to tell the members, the staff or the other members of the board of directors. Many members didn't find out that their corps had folded until they were contacted by other corps trying to recruit them. What a sad ending for the greatest entertaining corps of all time. A corps who was ahead of its time. A corps who changed drum corps for the better.
The Bridgemen will always be remembered as: Entertainers, Innovators, a corps who just had fun, & the rebels against the drum corps establishment. But most important, it was a corps that always had heart. Heart that was started in 1965, and continued all the way to the end in 1988. This look back at the Bridgemen is dedicated to 3 gentlemen, whose visions helped make this a great drum corps. The first 2 gentlemen are Edward Holmes & Father Joseph Donovan, who had a vision to start a drum corps out of the Saint Andrew parish and who gave the corps its heart and soul. They also made it a family atmosphere. The 3rd gentleman is Bobby Hoffman, whose vision was to take the corps to absolute craziness and create a corps whose main purpose was to entertain audiences. However, while the world thought that the Bridgemen were gone forever, they would defy history once again would prove it otherwise.
In 1995, the alumni organized a reunion to celebrate the Bridgemen's 30th Anniversary. It was held in Newark, NJ and was attended by over 200 people. A great time was had by all as they enjoyed reconnecting with old friends and reminiscing about "the good old days".
During the late 1990's, there was a failed attempt to resurrect the Bridgemen. This attempt failed because it did not have the full support of the alumni. The one good thing that emerged from this attempt was that they had commissioned the creation of a CD of the Bridgemen's music from its golden years. Today, this rare CD is a real collectors item.
In 2005, a group of willing alumni came together and decided to form an Alumni Corps under the direction of George Lavelle, Jr. The Alumni Corps was an instant success and garnered much praise. It performed in local parades in Bayonne and at the corps picnic.
The Bridgemen Alumni Corps debuted the return of its classic "Banana Coat" uniforms that it wore form 1976-1988. The Alumni Corps started performing a field show and appeared in exhibitions at local drum corps shows.
The Bridgemen Alumni Corps made its debut at the DCI Eastern Classic and recieved multiple standing ovations.
In 2016, the Bridgmen Board of Directors, amid declining numbers, dwindleling talent and practice facility issues, decided to end the Alumni Corps on a high note. They accomplished this when they performed at the Drum Corps International World Champonship Semi-Finals in Indianapolis, IN. The Bridgemen also launched two additional performace groups, the Bridgemen Senior Color Guard and the Double B Indoor Guard. Both groups captured championships in their debut years.
For 2017 and beyond, the Bridgemen Board of Directors decided to reorganize as a performing arts organiztion. They initially debuted five performing arts groups. These include Bridgemen Brass, Bridgemen Mini-Corps, Bridgemen Percussion Ensemble, Bridgemen Senior Color Guard and Double B Indoor Guard. A new website and new social media oureaches were also debuted.