Script Ohio Marching Formation

Low Section Of Marching Band On Street
Donal Husni / EyeEm / Getty Images

Of all the traditions in Ohio State’s University's football history, none is more widely recognized than the "Script Ohio," the signature marching band formation that forms a cursive "Ohio" on the field by the Buckeyes' marching band every game day. It is one of the best-known spectacles in college sports.

Unlike a typical follow-the-leader drill, the Script Ohio is a very specifically measured and charted maneuver. Each band member is required to memorize the counts for each portion of the formation. 

While many college football fans know of the Script Ohio, and likely have seen the formation on television dozens of times during an Ohio State game, it is a little-known fact that the Ohio State football tradition made its first debut by the University of Michigan marching band.

Origins: Michigan Vs. Ohio

The first performance of the Script Ohio by OSU dates to 1936 when Ohio State's marching band director Eugene Weigel unveiled his band’s performance.

For several years leading up to 1936, it is said that Weigel had been toying with several ideas to improve the marching band's performance. Among the concepts that led to his band's Script Ohio was the rotating scroll on the Times Square Building, the skywriting advertisements he saw at the state fair and the looped "Ohio" script design on the marquee sign of the Loew’s Ohio Theatre in downtown Columbus.

Despite these theories, it is suggested Weigel directly poached the Script Ohio from a guest performance by the University of Michigan Marching Band four years earlier.

In a 1932 visit to Ohio Stadium, the visiting University of Michigan band performed a marching formation, which The Michigan Daily described as the word "Ohio" spelled out in script diagonally across the field in the double-deck Ohio stadium to the accompaniment of the Ohio State marching song, "Fight the Team."

While it’s true that the Michigan band was the first to perform a script Ohio formation they were not the first to perform "the Script Ohio."

According to former OSU band member Ted Boehm, who describes the Script Ohio in detail, "We submit that the script aspect is only one part of the overall event that is signified by the name. Of course, the script is the one essential element, but there is more; all of the parts have merged, starting with the triple revolving block Ohio as the lead off formation, the peel-off into the script movement, the interlaced shoestring movement, the pervasive driving beat of the venerable 'Le Regiment de Sambre et Meuse,' the dotted “i” and the concluding vocal chorus."

Dotting the 'I' with Flair

The tradition of dotting the "i" in the Script Ohio dates back to its unveiling in 1936, but the drama attached to the moment did not occur until 1938 when sousaphone player Glen R. Johnson improvised his dramatic dotting moment because the drum major was late to his place.

According to Johnson, “So I did a big kick, a turn, and a deep bow to use up the music.” According to legend, the Buckeyes crowd loved Johnson’s innovation. It has remained a tradition ever since.

Not Just Anyone can Dot the 'I'

Traditionally, since Johnson, a sousaphone player, invented the tradition we now know as dotting the "I,” only sousaphone players are eligible to dot the "i.” According to Ohio State officials, a sousaphone player must at least be a fourth-year member although fifth-year sousaphone players are also eligible, provided that all of the fourth-year members have had an opportunity to do the maneuver.

In OSU history, there have been a few honorary "I dotted." Famous among them are legendary Ohio State coach Woody Hayes, golfer Jack Nicklaus, comedian Bob Hope and astronaut and former Sen. John Glenn. This is considered the greatest honor the band can bestow on any non-band member and is an extremely special event.

The Best Damn Band in the Land

Ohio State University's Marching Band got its start in 1878 and proudly calls itself "The Best Damn Band in the Land," or TBDBITL.

It is one of the few collegiate all-brass and percussion bands in the country, perhaps one of the largest of its type in the world. The band includes 225 marching members, from 192 to 195 regulars, with more than 30 alternates, according to Ohio State.

Its style is intended to replicate traditional British military brass bands. Since military training was an important part of the early curriculum at Ohio State, the band had been formed to provide music to the cadets for drills. In its early years, the OSU Marching Band was a fife and drum corps and was sponsored by the military department.