The Cadets are pleased to announce that Jay Travis has been chosen as one of DCI’s Volunteers of the Year for 2021.

“Volunteers serve as the lifeblood of every drum corps, providing much-needed assistance and support to ensure that performing students can take part in the life-changing drum corps experience,” said DCI in their May 12 announcement.

With Jay, “assistance” only scratches the surface. Since joining The Cadets’ team of volunteers in the fall of 2007, he has become a cornerstone of the corps’ operations, from transportation, to food service, to props and equipment.

As we honor his years of service, we take a trip down memory lane to glance at the past 13 years through the eyes of a man entirely behind the scenes:

“I began as a simple band dad back at the 2008 auditions, washing dishes and helping with food service and hearing the full corps inside a gymnasium for the first time. That was kind of an eye-opener,” said Jay.

He attended the audition camp with his son, Zack Travis, who came to try out for the baritone section. What caught Jay’s attention was the quality of the members, both in their performance ability and character. “I was struck by how appreciative they were of my simple service, and how mature and self-reliant they had become through doing this band thing,” he said.

Jay and Zack came back for ’09 auditions the following year. “This time, Zack was a junior but still lacked some marching experience,” Jay explained. “I still washed dishes and helped where I could. The volunteers found out I was handy, so I would just fix stuff and kind of hold things together.”

Prior to The Cadets’ 2010 Toy Souldier season, Jay changed careers from printer to commercial driver. He now had a license to drive tractor trailers and buses and found himself becoming even handier – The Cadets’ own “Jay” of all trades, so to speak.

Zack accepted a baritone spot that year, and Jay was able to tour with the corps for the entire summer.

“Spring training, I moved tractor trailers, did bus runs and rebuilds for the show equipment, and helped keep the food service in operation,” he said. “Once tour began, I quickly became the emergency bus driver, along with fixing whatever broke. Oh, and I made a few props for the show.”

Jay returned in the same role for 2011, but also as a member of the administrative team. Again, he was tasked with some prop-building for the show. “It was mostly simple stuff — T-poles for flags and working out the kinks for the invisible runners for the sunray effect at the end,” he said. “But the trickiest thing that year was, I had to attach two 4-foot poles together to make them 8 feet long to be spun and then detached again instantly.”

Meanwhile, Jay notes, this was not during spring training. The corps was on tour by this point, and he was more than a little busy helping to move and feed over 200 people.

“By Minnesota, I had a design, but we now had to manufacture 20 of them in two-days’ time,” he continued. “God bless our volunteers who went without sleep to help build them in the school prop shop. We built the ‘pole meckas’ (as the guard called them) just in time, and when the corps put them to the test, I was surrounded by a bunch of crying and cheering volunteers. They worked, and the rest is history.”

Jay was also in charge of fixing the iconic baritone from the demons’ field entrance (pictured below) from night to night.

2012 was the Christmas show. Jay took a step back from admin, as he had enough to do moving heavy equipment, helping the food crew, rebuilding, repairing, and prop-building. “The dreaded triangle ramps,” he recalled with a sigh. “They worked, but they were heavy and quite the challenge to move.”

Jay had also grown close to the front ensemble by this time in his Cadets volunteer career. “The amount of wheel replacement and inventions for hanging air cylinders, railroad I-beams, and custom drums was endless. I had tools, and I new how to use them, so I took the pit under my wing from the beginning,” he said.

Their designated cart driver at every show, Jay was basically an honorary CPit member.

2013 brought more of the same. Side by Side was the show, and Zack had risen to the position of drum major. The props were supplied by a pro-welder that year, but Jay notes that there were many, many kinks to work out which took up most of his spring training. “I was still the driver, fixer, cook, and go-to guy,” he said.

When new volunteers came in, Jay was typically introduced by others as, “the glue that holds all this together.”

In 2014, Jay came back even though Zack had aged out. “I was just doing what I believed in,” he said. “For the American Promise season, I was still the fixer, driver, cook, prop guy. We had to deal with the ‘Cadetipede’ — the front-sideline stage with ramps that went from the 20 to the 20. Talk about tricky to move!” he said.

To top it off, Jay was tasked with devising a way to raise a 25-foot-tall by 60-foot-long backdrop on the back of the field for the last movement of the show. “It was a huge sail!” he said. “The first time we tried it, the small, backfield drum major was told to hold the center. It took her 10 feet up in the air! It took me quite a bit of tweaking to make it work by the end of tour. That, and we built an 8-foot star that was raised 10 feet up,” Jay said.

2015 was The Power of 10. “Same deal, but I think I spent more time on the food truck cooking that year,” he said. “It’s hard to get good help to commit for three months. But I was still part-time driving, fixing, and prop-redesigning. Some of the smaller guard members had a hard time with those big boxes,” he recalled.

For the 2016 Awakening season, Jay cooked for all the winter camps, helped the corps move in to spring training, and joined the tour in Texas. He asked whether he was most needed in transportation or food service and was told, “Mannequins.” Jay said, “OK.”

“They had this huge, cake-shaped pedestal made out of pressure-treated wood that held 20-some kids but took 10 people to move onto the field. There was also a smaller version that was giving the current prop crew all they could handle, and they had 25 or so mannequins but no idea how to make them stand up on turf.”

There were a lot of happy faces the day Jay met up with the corps in Texas. “It took a couple days, but I figured it all out,” he said.

“2017 was Faithful, the stained-glass backdrop show,” Jay said. He worked spring training — cooking, building, driving, and fixing props. After that, he caught up with the corps for the last few weeks of tour and ended up filling in as head cook.

“Of course, it didn’t help to have the food trailer catch fire at the second-to-last stop of the tour,” he said. “We didn’t lose it, but it was the last straw for that truck.”

With great help from Bill Speakman, Mike Leonard and Jay’s employer, Ace Robbins, Jay converted a 53-foot moving van into The Cadets’ new food truck with all new equipment. “It was a major undertaking and a huge improvement,” he said. “It was made at one-third the cost of what the other corps were paying, and we built it in half the time. It worked so well because the people that actually use it designed it.”

Prior to the 2018 season, Jay helped to form the Cadets Volunteer Association. “I saw the need for a more organized volunteer support group and a way to make their voices heard. We banded together current and past parents and volunteers to give the corps more consistent support,” he said.

The first camp came that year, and Jay showed up, prepared to lend more support than ever. “We wanted to show the world that The Cadets were still here. I still believed drum corps was one of the best ways to make this world a better place. I always bragged that if these kids could do this, they could do anything they put their mind to. So, we went back to work.”

“The Unity Project was interesting to say the least,” Jay continued. “The props were already in production. The staff had a total change. All management was new, and there was a lot of nervous tension about whether we could pull this off.”

“I was going to help primarily with food at spring training, but then they got the spinning prop boxes that were more like teeter-totters on the field, poking holes in the field and ejecting performers,” he said. “I spent two weeks modifying them so they actually worked along with food and other projects.”

The memories of making that first show happen after all the drama still bring a smile to his face.

For Behold in 2019, Jay cooked at camps and was not really consulted about the props. “At the camp before spring-training, I found out it was going to take a full tractor-trailer and half a box truck to move the props. After I saw the first load-out, there was a clear need for some new engineering just to get the props on and off the trucks safely. I designed a rail system for them and knew a guy that could make it happen. It worked!”

In 2020, just as Cadets Arts & Entertainment was being formed, the pandemic shut DCI down. At the time, Jay was working with the design team on prop design. “For 2020, the goal was to create props that were safe, effective and sell-able. All others from the past were just scrapped,” he said. Thanks to Ace Robbins, Jay arranged for all of The Cadets’ vehicles to be kept in safe, free storage until the corps returns to the field.

Jay does it all out of love and a commitment to make this world a better place. He truly believes in the power of the marching arts to shape young people and in the mission of The Cadets “to educate, embolden, and enhance the lives of young people through a superior performing arts experience.”

The teams within Cadets Arts & Entertainment, The Cadets and the Cadets Volunteer Association are thrilled to congratulate Jay on this special honor.