The single-file line of 192 people unwinding to form “Ohio” for three-and-a-half minutes has become a fixture at Ohio State football games. But it has roots in the University of Michigan’s marching band history, too.
“‘Script Ohio’ is very important to me and to the Buckeye nation,” said Jon Woods, director of the OSU Marching Band. “It is a signature of who we are as the state of Ohio and a university.”
The first time OSU’s marching band scrawled the state’s name in cursive — and dotted the “i” — was in 1936, said Tamar Chute, associate university archivist.
But that was not the first time a marching band spelled “Ohio” on the field. Four years earlier, in 1932, Michigan’s marching band performed at OSU’s stadium, Chute said. During the show, the band spelled “Ohio” in script diagonally across the field.
How it became a pre-game tradition for the OSU band is a matter of speculation, Chute said. Some say that Eugene Weigel, director of the marching band in 1936, saw the Michigan marching band spell out the state’s name on the field. Weigel, though, said he got his inspiration from Times Square signs in New York City and from Columbus’ Ohio Theatre sign.
Chute said it might be a combination of both.
Others say Weigel was inspired by an airplane that spelled “Ohio” in smoke, said Paul Droste, unofficial archivist and former director of the OSU Marching Band from 1970 to 1983.
The biggest difference from the 1936 “Script Ohio” and the formation seen today is the dotting of the “i,” Chute said. When it started, the letter was dotted by a trumpet player.
Four games later, Weigel wanted to put more emphasis on dotting the “i,” so he assigned a sousaphone player to the task, Droste said.
“Weigel wanted to make it more visible, and what is more visible than a large sousaphone?” Droste said.
Considered a mark of prestige, dotting the “i” is reserved for seniors who spend their college careers working up to that honor, Woods said.
Ryan Wiens, a fourth-year in zoology, is the sousaphone player who will dot the “i” at Saturday’s game against Michigan.
“It is great to be a part of what is known as the greatest college tradition,” Wiens said.