La Crosse Marching Chiefs Marched in 1970 Rose Bowl Parade

By Robert Mullen

Americans ring in the New Year with a variety of celebrations and traditions, including fireworks, making resolutions to better their lives, hosting New Year’s Eve parties, watching the Times Square countdown, and viewing college football bowl games. Tuning in to the Rose Bowl Parade on New Year’s morning is another time-honored tradition that most of us have done and continue to do.

The Rose Bowl Parade of 1970 was a special event for the La Crosse State University (now the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse) marching band. At that time they were known as the Marching Chiefs, and they had gained a national reputation for their fast-paced “swing and sway” marching style of presentation. The Marching Chiefs played at a variety of events in the 1960s and 1970s, including half-time shows for the Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, and Chicago Bears football games. They were scheduled to play at the famed “Ice Bowl” NFL championship game of 1967, but the extreme cold made it impossible to perform.

The band of 1970 was invited to be one of twenty-one bands to march in the Rose Bowl Parade, an opportunity to perform to a million and a half spectators and many millions more nationally on CBS and NBC. The new band director John Alexander took on the challenge of raising the $75,000 needed to take the 225 marching band members to Pasadena. The energetic band members raised the money by holding chicken-cues and car washes, selling cookbooks, and collecting soda pop bottles. Another project was selling the booster button shown here for one dollar apiece. The maroon and white button, donated by Anna Thomas, features a stylized symbol in use when the university’s sports teams were called the Indians.

In preparation for the trip and the five and a half mile Rose Bowl Parade route, Alexander required the students to participate in many hours of practice so the performance would be as perfect as possible. The band marched around the streets of the campus endlessly. They performed for the dedication of the newly opened Intestate Highway 90, took a bus six miles up the road, and marched back the entire distance.

Led by Drum Major George Moore and Twirler Trish Joanis, the Marching Chiefs performed several pieces for the crowds and TV cameras in Pasadena, including “On, Wisconsin,” “Everything Is Turning Up Roses,” and, of course, “The Beer Barrel Polka.” It was an exhausting march, especially with the Marching Chiefs’ vigorous style, nearly forcing one band member to drop out early. Yet, for all of them, it was a New Year’s experience that they would never forget.

This article was originally featured in the La Crosse Tribune.