Under a sweltering sun, 150 young men and women have
put their bodies through a punishing routine, 16 hours a day, on the football field at Nation Ford High School.
World-class athletes? Not in the traditional sense.
They compete with the Carolina Crown Drum and Bugle Corps, an elite group of 16- to 22-year-olds who eat, sleep and drink this marching-band-like activity for three months of the year. The hard work in temperatures near 100 degrees leads up to the summer tour, which starts today.
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"You push your body so hard," said Lauren Jaber, 19, a first-time Crown member. "You think to yourself, 'I can stick it out or I can go home.' I just keep in mind that it's worth it in the end."
Success on this tour - wooing fans, selling more souvenirs, attracting new donors - is crucial as the group faces a $60,000 deficit. Rising food and fuel prices are the culprits.
The corps will travel 15,000 miles in eight weeks to 53 cities. In the caravan: four 52-passenger buses, two 53-foot trailers and three other support vehicles. One of the trailers is a mobile kitchen with workers who prepare 200 meals, four times a day.
"We absolutely feel the economic impact, from rising costs to less donations," Chief Operating Officer Jim Coates said. "It just means we have to work harder next year."
Coates expects the organization to spend an additional $50,000 to $60,000 on fuel alone. He's hoping to overcome that deficit by selling more tickets, peddling more T-shirts, hats and CDs, and soliciting more donations.
The nonprofit organization based in Fort Mill has a $1.6 million annual budget, funded mainly by campaign drives, tuition and clinics for young musicians.
Coates is worried that if the group isn't able to raise the needed funds, the program won't be able to operate at its world-class level.
Crown's summer tour culminates in August in Bloomington, Ind., where the group will compete against 19 others in Division I of the DCI World Championships. Last year, Crown placed sixth, the highest in its 21-year history.
This week, the corps was in "spring training," an intense period of 16-hour rehearsals.
Gallon-size water jugs lined the high school hallways - the group's temporary practice facility (and living quarters) - and were refilled regularly throughout the day. During much-anticipated two-hour respites from the sun, some of the young men and women rested their aching muscles in the comfort of their sleeping bags in the cool, dark high school auditorium.
"(The heat) can be pretty miserable, but at the same time, there's always a goal. It always feels like we're achieving something," said Evan VanDoren, the corps' lead drum major and a five-year member.
VanDoren, a 21-year-old music education major at Butler University in Indiana, said the goal this year is to be "better than the year before. It's a contest against ourselves, really."
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"You think to yourself, 'I can stick it out or I can go home.'
I just keep in mind that it's worth it in the end."
first-time Crown member
Carolina Crown Drum and Bugle Corps also hosts NightBEAT Sunday, July 2,7 at Memorial Stadium just outside of uptown, where they will perform their routine along with seven other drum corps.
For more information, go to www.carolinacrown.org.
See the video of a Carolina Crown practice at www.charlotte.com/news
For other stories about the group, visit www.fortmilltimes.com