Juggling isn't the first thing that comes to mind when you think of drum and bugle corps. But Steve Ragatz thought it would be a nice addition to that kind of performance as he watched a competition on television last year.
A week later The Star of Indiana, one of the nation's top drum corps, unexpectedly called him and signed him up to juggle for their national 1987 summer tour.
With Ragatz as featured juggler and several other juggling routines incorporated in their performance, The Star of Indiana finished seventh among 40 teams competing in the Drum Corps International World Championships in August. The juggler and his 128 friends performed in front of 40,000 people in Madison, Wisc.!
The Star, a three-year-old group based near Ragatz's hometown of Bloomington, Ind., recruited him after deciding on a circus theme for this year's performances. The corps' sponsor, Bill Cook, had seen Ragatz perform locally and suggested him to the group's director, Jim Mason. With a little coaxing, Ragatz was persuaded not only to juggle, but also to train and perform with 25 members of the band's color guard in competitions.
"We worked seven or eight weekend camps and then every day for two weeks prior to the tour," Ragatz said. "They picked up juggling very quickly because their eye-hand coordination was already well-established from flag twirling."
While students worked long hours on regular color guard moves, Ragatz and a protege, Denny Giles, practiced juggling. Giles, a drummer, had never juggled before. But Ragatz had him doing four balls and rings and passing seven clubs with variations by the beginning of the tour in June.
They used neon-yellow and orange softballs for visibility during the night shows under football field lights. Ragatz also juggled cigar boxes during his solo routine.
That routine, often made more challenging by wind and darkness, consisted of six softballs, five ball tricks, five clubs, cigar boxes and riding a six-foot unicycle during the 13-minute finale to the show.
This was Ragatz's first and last tour with the Star. He will be past the 21-year-old age limit next year. But if nothing else, he will take with him a lot of memories -- some more vivid than others. "Nothing hurts more than putting up five clubs right into those football field lights," he said, grimacing. "Pain!"
(Kent Phillips is a photographer for the Herald-Telephone in Bloomington, Ind., as well as a free-lance writer and Busch Gardens veteran juggler.)