Dotting History

By Chris Lauderback on November 20, 2012 at 7:00p

On Saturday, the Buckeyes will look to make history, becoming just the 10th team in OSU football lore to go undefeated and only the sixth to go undefeated and untied.

At halftime, another historic moment will occur as Jocelyn Smallwood, a senior sousaphone player from Upper Arlington, will become the first African-American woman in the history of TBDBITL to dot the i and the first woman ever to dot the i against Michigan.

Jocelyn enjoying the 2010 curb stomping of the Wolverines

Recently, I had a chance to sit and chat with Jocelyn to discuss her upcoming historical moment and I was blown away by her deep appreciation for Ohio State, the band itself, and the honor of being able to make history.

How long have you been playing instruments and how did you end up deciding on the sousaphone long term?

I think I’ve always been musically inclined as I’ve always enjoyed listening to music and being around it.

When I was really little I had this cassette player I’d keep by my bed and I can remember lying in bed at night and playing the Finale of the 1812 Overture over and over until I fell asleep. So I’ve always loved music. But I didn’t start playing instruments until I was in the fifth grade. That’s when band starts in my school system.

I started out on the trumpet and played it from the 5th grade to the 8th grade, when I became bored with it. I think mostly I was just being angst ridden or something, but I told my band director I was quitting and he informed me that wasn’t going to happen, so I switched to the tuba. From that point on I couldn’t get enough of music and band. I started playing the sousaphone (marching tuba) my freshmen year of high school.

How long have you been in the OSUMB and how did you land at Ohio State?

A lot of kids from my high school come to Ohio State. But I was convinced that if I came to school here I would end up being just like everyone else and that’s something I’ve always wanted to avoid. But, mostly because of financial reasons I started considering Ohio State more seriously in the spring of my senior year. During that time I happened to have a conversation with my high school band director in which he told me he thought I should try out for TBDBITL because he thought I could make it.

I’ve always looked up to him and taken his opinion very seriously, so I went to the recruitment night the band holds every year and was sold. The day I told my parents I had decided to come to OSU we had one of those conversations where they told me, “Take your time, you don’t have to decide right now” but I was done deciding. I just told them, “I’m going to Ohio State. I’ve made up my mind. Now I'm going to start working on making this band."

What’s your major and what do you want to do after college from a career standpoint?

I'm majoring in International Studies with a focus on security and intelligence. It’s basically a combination of political science and international issues. I’ve chosen to focus a great deal on terrorism and counterterrorism. I’m debating right now whether I want to go to graduate school or join the military. My end goal is to at some point work for the federal government.

Do you come from a family with a strong Buckeye background?

Absolutely. Living as close as I did to campus growing up, you’re a Buckeye regardless of whether or not you have an actual connection to the university. However, both of my parents attended undergrad and law school at Ohio State. One of grandfathers was a professor here and another attended for undergrad, so our familial connection is very strong.

What are the demands during the season as a member of the OSUMB?

It’s stressful. I would honestly compare it to playing a sport as far as time goes, or at least having a job. We’re only required to be there from 4:10-6:10 each day, and then five and a half or six hours before kickoff on a game day. But, I’d say most people spend upwards of 20-25 hours a week doing band, including game day.

Jocelyn's been rocking the sousaphone since high school

I normally get to the band center around 3 and leave around 7. But that’s on a normal day. During a one-week show I’ll spend from 2 in the afternoon to 10 or 11 at night at the stadium rehearsing and then memorizing music and working on things. That’s not abnormal at all. So it’s hard—you have a lot to do and during a season like this where we have 4 or 5 straight weeks of home games which means 4 or 5 new shows back to back, that’s rough. Very little sleep and lots of stress. But I love it—I wouldn’t trade those late nights of memorizing music and Friday nights where I go to bed at 1 AM and get up again at 4 for anything.

What’s the selection process for determining who dots the i and how far in advance did you know you’d get to do it against Michigan?

It’s oddly complicated. Who dots the i at what game is determined by rank. Every row in the band has 14 people, but only 12 of them march every week. The other two are called “alternates.” They’re like substitutes on a sports team. Alternates are absolutely part of the band and row and who is an alternate changes throughout the season. Their job is to help with some of the props on the field for shows and things like that, but most importantly they participate in challenges on Monday afternoon.

Challenges are a 20-minute repeat of tryouts in which an alternate picks one of the 12 “regulars” to compete against for the spot. They generally pick someone they think they can beat. The challenge system is meant to keep everyone on their toes at all times. Anyone can be challenged, even fourth and fifth-year members. In fact, late in the season many alternates will pick out a fourth or fifth-year member who has stopped practicing and become complacent and challenge them. Often the alternate will win. So, the squad leaders judge who marches better and pick someone to win and march the regular spot for that week.

Rank is based on how many performances you march. They’re known as “ramps” and “performances.” Every time you march down the ramp in Ohio Stadium, that gives you higher rank. So, you count the number of ramps someone has and you go in order from highest to lowest. Other performances, like away games or a bowl game count as tie breakers. So, if two people have 15 ramps but one performed at the Rose Bowl our first year and one did not, that person who performed would be ranked ahead.

Once you get to the end of your third year in band, you have a night during the spring where you pick what games you want. You pull up the schedule and go through it from the top-ranked person to the lowest. It’s an amazing night—everyone is so excited and everyone picks their games and then we have a party. I’ll remember it forever; it was amazing.

So anyway, I’ve been challenged five times I think, which is actually a fairly low amount, and was fortunate enough to win all of them. Having never been an alternate, I’m ranked first. So on that night I got first pick of the games and picked Michigan, just because traditionally that’s the one people want. So technically I knew I was going to dot against Michigan last spring. But I’ve been trying not to screw up anything since halfway through my freshman year because I knew if I was able to keep that spot I’d be able to dot against Michigan. Somehow that happened. I worry a lot that I’m going to wake up and it will all have been a dream and I’ll be back in my rookie year or something. But we’re getting pretty close so I’m starting to believe I’m actually going to get to do it.

What’s dotting the i mean to you? How much sweeter is it knowing you’re the first woman to do so against Michigan?

People ask me all the time and I haven’t been able to come up with anything that accurately describes it. I don’t think words can describe it accurately enough.

Being a part of that tradition is unbelievable, especially since I’ve wanted to do this game in particular for so long. The day I found out that Michigan was at home my senior year I was still practicing for tryouts. A guy who I now know well because we were in band together for two years was helping me practice and mentioned that Michigan was a home game in what would be my senior year. I hadn’t even made the band yet and I decided on the field that I was going to dot the i against Michigan. It happened quickly and I immediately told myself, “No, you can’t think about that. You haven’t even made the band yet. You have to do that first” but it wasn’t much use. I’m pretty stubborn.

All business on the field

So, from then on, it was full steam ahead towards that goal. But actually achieving it after having a moment like that is pretty crazy, being able to look back at that and know in a few weeks I’m doing that is indescribable. There were plenty of hurdles on the way to this point, but somehow I managed to get here. And that’s what I think it’s really about for me.

This is special because of all the people who are going to be with me on that day. It’s a physical manifestation of the time and effort that many people have put into me. I’m excited to have an opportunity to thank them so visibly for everything that they’ve given me because I wouldn’t be here without them.

Being the first black woman is special. I don’t ever mean to downplay that. But, that’s so far from the front of my mind when I think about it.

When I decided I was going to try and dot the i against Michigan, I didn’t think at all about whether any women or black women had done it before. I just wanted to do it. It was special enough in and of itself that I didn’t even think of the “firsts” other people are discussing. Someone had to tell me “Hey! You’re going to be the first female i dotter against Michigan and the first black woman to dot the i ever!” And that was three or so years ago when I was really far away from dotting the i against Michigan and I smiled and thought, “That would be cool” and then got back to work.

However, I think the more important thing it brings out is that the band doesn’t see those things. I’ve heard people say, “Why has it taken so long for this to happen?” or things like that. And honestly one of the things I love about this band is that when you try out the only thing that matters is skill. They don’t care about gender, race, religion, sexuality, political persuasion, socioeconomic status, or anything. They care about how well you march and play. And if you can meet those requirements they pick you. They don’t care about the rest.

I was listening to a woman speak who was running for Congress at one point. Her name is Joyce Beatty. And when she was asked about how it felt to be someone who is seen as breaking through a lot of barriers for African-American women, she responded that being a first doesn’t mean much if there isn’t a second. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anybody say it better—I think it’s great that I’m recognized for doing this. And I appreciate the positive attention. But mostly I hope that it signals to people that it is not an anomaly for a woman or a black woman in particular to be successful in this band, or anywhere for that matter. Maybe some young woman, regardless of her race, will see this and think, “I can do that.” If that happens, it would be great. But as far as day to day thoughts about November 24, I don’t think about it. I’m just happy to have the opportunity to dot the i at all, let alone at that game.

No more questions but since thousands of eyeballs will read this interview, is there anything else you want to say to Buckeye Nation leading up to The Game?

I just want to thank everyone who has ever helped me. Family, friends, teachers, coaches, and the staff and members of TBDBITL. I wouldn’t be doing any of this without those people and more than a celebration of what I’m doing, I think November 24th is really an opportunity to celebrate them and the wonderful support everyone has given me. I love this band and university more than I can describe.

For more insight from Joceyln, hop on over the Blog Post section for Dotting History, Continued



brglr14's picture


I dont know karate but i do know crazy and i'm not afraid to use it.


BuckeyeVet's picture

I HAVE to brag!  Jocelyn is my neice, and you better believe we will be cheering her on in person this Saturday.  Calling all 11W members to be cheering extra for her this Saturday!
Did I mention how proud of her I am? She's a great band member, and an even better person. 

"Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read."          - Groucho Marx

"The possible recipient of Oyster's ONLY down vote".

Doc's picture

Done and done.  Congratulate her for all of us.  What a great story, just goes to show what a little bit of drive and determination can do.

I'm hiding baby and I'm dreaming
I'm riding down your moonlight mile

hodge's picture

As a former bandie, I'll tip my shako to that!

BuckeyeMark's picture

Wow.  What a great story... I think I may have gotten some dust or something in my eye...

So proud of our band and all that they mean and do! 

TBDBITLinWIScantSON's picture

Congratulations, Jocelyn! It will be that much more inspiring for me watching you stand alone, playing, while the rest of the band sits during skull session. As a former trumpet player, I always thought that was a special moment for a sousaphone player. Actually doting in the 'Shoe is awesome, but I always thought that moment was somehow more special to me. Maybe more personal, or something....
while I couldn't dot the I, as a x-row trumpet player, I did get to lead the script my senior year against Michigan. The selection process is (was) pretty similar, and it's something I can close my eyes and relive to this day.
what a great culmination to all the work it takes to get there- it's a grueling and  wonderful experience! So, soak it all in, and remember it forever! Pick up your feet, turn your corners square, and drive, DRIVE, DRIVE!! WB
and thank you, 11W staff (chris!) for the TBDBITL love. Just goes to show that tOSU and this site aren't just about the football (just mostly, as it should be!)


ryanosu03's picture

way to go!
Go bucks!

BuckeyeVet's picture

Thanks, Doc. And thank you Chris & Jason who made this happen. Much appreciated.

"Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read."          - Groucho Marx

"The possible recipient of Oyster's ONLY down vote".

jjbinks11's picture

I remember four and a half years ago when I first met Donk and she was freaking out about tryouts and practice and was legitimately better than I was, and I had already made band the year prior.


KL Row - "We dot the 'i' and you don't!"

October 1, 2011 - Michigan State University

3 Yards And A Cloud of Dust's picture

Great story, thanks for sharing it with The Nation, Mr. Lauderback.  This is a great reminder of the others who sacrifice, practice and give 100% to participate in a great tradition - but never receive the same level of recognition as the coaches and players.  "Hats Off" to Ms. Smallwood, and the rest of TBDBITL.  Well done.

MediBuck's picture

Phenomenal story from someone with great smarts and strong Buckeye bloodlines. Look forward to cheering her on this Saturday!!

"There is a force that makes us all brothers, no one goes his way alone." --Woody Hayes

southbymidwest's picture

Great, great story. Congratulations to Jocelyn! She represents the band and OSU quite well.
Had a friend in TBDBITL way back when, amazed me how hard they worked. He loved being in it, and was damn proud to be a member.

GoBucks713's picture

Thank you for being an inspiration to all!! GO BUCKS!

-The Aristocrats!

Brutus's picture

Brilliant story.  So interesting and insightful. I admittedly don't think much about the band outside of Saturdays so it's nice to hear about what goes on behind the scenes. I am in absolute awe of what they are capable of.  As an Ohioan, I can't think of a higher honor than being a non-band member and dotting the i.  Sounds like Jocelyn will appreciate this achievement as much as everyone before her.

ShowThemOhiosHere's picture

Great story.  Congratulations all around.  Hopefully some day there is a 2nd :)

Class of 2010.

CowCat's picture

Gotta see it. Go UAHS, Go Bucks, Beat That Team Up North.

"We get paid to score touchdowns, not kick field goals"
-- Urban Meyer

Jarrett's picture

Awesome story about an awesome person in an awesome band! It's GREAT to see you guys supporting the Buckeye football support system! Story's like this, about people like this, are really nice to read and makes this site more special to me. It also makes me feel even more of a Buckeye bond-it's part of the Buckeye Tradition's that makes us all one big scarlet and grey family. 
Congratulations Jocelyn! Nice to see someone's hard work and dedication pay off. Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy. Go Buckeyes! Beat blue! 

"I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy." Groucho Marx 


flipbuckeye's picture

Just a great story. Dot the sh*t outta that i. Go Bucks!

ArTbkward's picture

Very cool.  Congratulations to Jocelyn!

We should strive to keep thy name, of fair repute and spotless fame...

(Also, I'm not a dude)

Buckeyeneer's picture

Great write up. Congrats Jocelyn!

"Because the rules won't let you go for three." - Woody Hayes

THE Ohio State University

BucksfanXC's picture

Awesome. I love this site so much. So diverse. Love that there are so many TBDBITL members on here. I salute you all.

“Any time you give a man something he doesn't earn, you cheapen him. Our kids earn what they get, and that includes respect.”  - Woody

osubuckeye4life's picture

Great story Chris!
Congrats Jocelyn on this honor!
Your hard work and dedication has certainly paid off!
Love the rivarly, hate TTUN!

HolyBuckeye92's picture

Getting my HS up.

"I call them That School Up North because I hate them."-Woody Hayes