Band of Gold Story - 1979-80

posted Aug 12, 2018, 7:17 PM by LBOG AA
1979 was the most difficult year in the entire history of the band. However, there were still good things happening too. The band appeared on the nationally televised Dinah Shore Show on February 6, 1979, when it was on location at the old St Petersburg Pier. In addition, the band appeared at Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer games on February 17 and May 12. The Rowdies/Cosmos game on May 12 was broadcast nationwide on ABC, but blacked out locally. The Largo bands also continued traditional appearances at the Pinellas County Fair, the Magnificent Sound of Gold and at various events during the Festival of States.

In the fall of 1979, Mr. Cotter started the Suncoast Sound Drum and Bugle Corps.  This new organization not only allowed him to circumvent the recent school board policies, but opened up membership, and more importantly broadened the talent pool to well beyond the confines of Largo High school.  In the early years of the Band of Gold, his vision was to bring the drum corps style to the high school band.  Now 11 years later, he was going to bring the Band of Gold style back to Drum Corps International (DCI).

Following the triumphant win in Kerkrade the past summer, the Band of Gold toured Europe.  One of these stops had been at the Royal Tournament at Earls Court in London. The band so impressed their hosts that Mr. Cotter was given an open invitation to return the next summer.

The decision to take the Suncoast Sound instead of the Band of Gold to the Royal Tournament in the summer of 1979 caused division and strife within the organization.  Many members, including some of the band’s student leaders, and parents believed it was the Band of Gold, not Bob Cotter that was invited back to the Royal Tournament.  The controversy boiled over into the local newspapers where there were accusations against Mr. Cotter made by some band members.  By the spring, having lost his bid for the school board, Mr. Cotter returned as full time director of the Band of Gold, upon which Mr. Aerts abruptly left, and some of the student leadership resigned.  The Suncoast Sound went to London.  By the end of the summer of 1979 most of the controversy surrounding the Band of Gold had died down…but the damage had been done.

The first half of the 79-80 school year for the band was filled with the usual parades, concerts, football games, and hosting the Golden Invitational Band Contest.  This was to be a “rebuilding” year, with the band marching a mere 140, of which only 28 were seniors. The first major competition of the year was the Florida Tournament of Bands at Al Lang Field in St Petersburg.  Different from past years, for the first time ever the winner would earn the right to represent Florida in the Festival of States. The competition was held on December 1, 1979. In the multi-year history of the Florida Tournament, there had only ever been one champion…the Band of Gold.  This night would prove no different.  The Band of Gold won the Field Show, and the Parade competitions, and came in second in the concert competition. They would represent Florida in April at the Festival of States.

 For many years at the Festival of States, the Band of Gold had played “host” to the weeklong event. But this year, the band was a competitor, representing Florida. Boca Ciega High filled in as host band that year.  The competition was fierce in every category, and for the first time in a decade, the Band of Gold finished outside the top three in the Field Show competition.  The Festival of States award ceremony was held at the band shell on Saturday afternoon, April 12, at Williams Park in St. Petersburg. In the last competition of the Festival, the parade, the Band of Gold took first place, beating the band from West Genesee, NY by a mere 0.55 points, winning  the Governor’s Cup and being proclaimed National Parade Champions.  Afterwards, in a moment of reflection, Mr. Cotter stated the Band of Gold had never lost a parade competition…ever. So much for the rebuilding year.

On Saturday, May 3, 1980, the band put on the Magnificent Sound of Gold at the Bayfront Center in St Petersburg.  The band spent the day rehearsing not only the field shows and concert arrangements, but also the “small bands” that had become a tradition of the event. The curtain went up at 8PM with Master of Ceremonies Herb Melleney, assisted at the mike by Guard of Gold Captain, Ann Klein.  Performances by the Blue Band, the Guard of Gold (and drum line), the Golden Strings, and the Largo High Concert Choir were true crowd pleasers, as was piano soloist and BOG 1975 alumni Richard Crosby. But the highlight of the evening was the formal presentation, in the center of the arena, of the Governor’s Cup as National Parade Champions by Senator John Ware, representing Governor Graham. The evening’s finale began with Mr. Melleney’s now famous (and exclusive) introduction of, “Ladies and gentlemen, fasten your musical seatbelts…” as the Band of Gold executed its premiere field show.  At the end, as it formed up on the baseline to march off through one of Bayfront’s  exits, Mr. Melleney invited past members of the Band of Gold to “fall in behind and march out one last time” with the band…the reason became clear in the next few minutes.

As the band was given the final “Band Halt” of the day, Mr. Cotter called everyone into the now familiar semi-circle and congratulated them on an excellent performance.  He then announced he would be leaving at the end of the school year.  He was taking a job as the music director of Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina…you could have heard a pin drop.  In the media interviews that followed over the next few days, he explained that he had passed up on getting his PhD and on writing a book. He had done all he had set out to do at Largo…the band was again National Champions…it was time.  In a press release he wrote, “The current Band of Gold has been one of the greatest success stories in all my experience, and I am proud to have worked with them.  It is with considerable regret that I leave the legion of super adult volunteers and supporters who have helped us pay the price for being world champions.”

And so it was, on Thursday, May 29, 1980, after 12 years, the Largo Band of Gold performed its last field show with Bob Cotter as director.  It was the annual Spring Concert, and started out in the Largo High auditorium with the concert band playing to a packed house of fans, parents, alumni and media.  After the indoor concert, everyone “repositioned “to Packer stadium, under perfect weather and a full moon, for the final field show.  It was flawless. 

Prior to the evening’s festivities, the band gathered in the band room, closed the doors, and presented Mr. Cotter with a gold watch with twelve diamonds, each one representing a different BOG year.  Bob Cotter thanked everyone, and stated that he had learned more from the band, than the band had from him.  The Largo Band of Gold then finished as they had started so many years before…they huddled up, sang the Lord’s Prayer and the “Halls of Largo” …then marched off into history.