Seven months after initial allegations surfaced against George Hopkins, the former director of the Allentown, PA-based Cadets was charged with sexual assault on November 13th. The charges stemmed from the accusations of two women, one of which was employed by another formerly Hopkins-headed organization, Youth Education in the Arts, and the second an employee of a rival drum corps.
Both women accuse Hopkins of arranging to meet with them on what they at the time assumed to be business-related matters, and then proceeding to drug and sexually assault them.
But the pattern of abuse, both sexual and emotional that defined Hopkins’ career, doesn’t seem to be an isolated case. A more recent report by Philly-based newspaper The Inquirer found instances of harassment, misconduct, abuse, and lax hiring practices widespread in the high-level, “world-class” corps that comprise Drum Corps International. Problems that extend far beyond George Hopkins and the Cadets.
Melody Romo was lured into a sexual relationship with her band instructor, Mike Stevens, when she was just 15. The relationship eventually became known after a classmate taped a conversation between Romo and Stevens, and the authorities were alerted.
Stevens resigned, and his teaching license expired before the case came to any conclusions, which effectively closed the matter altogether.
Years later, Romo found out that she had been cut from the final round of auditions for a San Antonio, Texas, drum corps because of what had happened when she was 15.
In 2006, Stevens was hired as an instructor for the Cascades, a corps based in Seattle, Washington. He later helped start Oregon Crusaders Indoor, an offshoot of the Oregon Crusaders drum corps. It was there that he coerced then 17-year-old Liana Bernard into a mentor-mentee relationship that eventually turned sexual. Stevens was in his 40s.
“He ended up talking to me a lot about my life,” Bernard told The Inquirer. “I opened up and trusted him more.”
Five other women came forward to The Inquirer, alleging predatory and inappropriate behavior by Stevens.
In August of this year, Stevens was put on administrative leave and a week later quietly resigned. Responding to the recent Inquirer report, Oregon Crusaders director Phil Marshall issued a statement apologizing for publicly thanking Stevens when he left the organization, and vowing that the organization was making a push to ensure that the environment of abuse and harassment Stevens perpetuated would no longer be tolerated.
“In hindsight, it was a grave mistake to publicly thank him for his time with us,” Marshall wrote. “To the women who took offense to our lack of sensitivity, I apologize.”
Marshall goes on to outline goals for reforming the Oregon Crusaders through the implementation of a Human Resources Committee, and changing the culture of DCI at large.
“There is an unspoken truth in the drum corps activity-the “elephant in the room”-that we need a more thorough method of vetting staff across the entire drum corps activity,” he said. “We need to address this problem head on, and find a more systematic way to gather and share staff information.”
Lax hiring practices are clearly a DCI issue, not just an Oregon Crusaders issue. The report found that almost half of the 24 World Class corps in DCI have in the past employed (at least one) teacher with a record of misconduct.
In some cases, corps knew the history of the person they were hiring, and in others, the tight-knit nature of the drum corps community, where hires are often made based on personal reference, created a safe-haven for those with misconduct in their past.
George Wozniak was forced to give up his teaching licenses after allegations surfaced that he was in a relationship with a student. He still kept his job with the Bluecoats, an Ohio-based corps, and later worked with Santa Clara Vanguard, a California-based corps.
Mark Calima continued as a DCI judge even after accusations of sexually harassing students. Timothy Weaver worked for Platinum Drum and Bugle Corps even after being convicted of having sex with a student. The director of the corps at the time told ABC11 that Weaver had not been subject to a background check at the time of his hiring.
The director of Austin-based Genesis corps knew that Eric Thompson had his teaching license suspended for assault when he hired him.
Criminal background checks were not mandated by DCI until 2017, and guidelines on hiring practices are still vague.
Joel Moody lost his teaching license after sending sexually explicit texts to a student but was then hired by the Crossmen, a World Class corps based in Texas. The corps even paid for a service that buried his past online. He left the Crossmen in May.
While in his late 20s, Morgan Larson was convicted of assaulting a 14-year-old member of the all-female corps he was the director of in Madison, Wisconsin. At his trial, other corps members came forward with similar allegations.
Yet in 2011 and 2012, Larson marched with an all age corps and volunteered with Midwest Connection, an organization run by the Cavaliers, another DCI World Class corps. He was not given a background check but was later asked to leave when others became aware of his past.
“I was preyed upon. I was coerced. And I’m not the only one,” Melody Romo told The Inquirer.
Cover image via Morning Call.
Also published on Medium.