Not many people fulfill a lifelong dream at the age of 22, but Emily Bochenek will do just that in front of 105,000 people Saturday, Nov. 23, in Ohio Stadium.
The 2009 graduate of Hilliard Darby High School will dot the "I" during a halftime performance of a single Script Ohio during "senior day," the final home game of the season for the Ohio State Buckeyes football team. The team will go up against Indiana University riding a 22-game winning streak.
Bochenek got a feature-length preview of the dream Nov. 16, when she dotted the "I" as part of a double Script Ohio in a pre-game performance on the road in Champaign, Ill. As memorable as that event was, Bochenek said she knows the best is yet to come.
"I think what I felt at Illinois was just a fraction," said Bochenek, a fourth-year sousaphone player in the Ohio State University Marching Band, otherwise known as TBDBITL. The prestige of dotting the "I" is reserved for the fourth- and fifth-year sousaphone players of the band. Only on rare occasions since Script Ohio was first performed in 1936 has the honor been afforded to a non-band member.
"The atmosphere will be electric," said Bochenek, reflecting on the "senior day" status of the game and that the No. 3 Buckeyes will enter the game undefeated.
Bochenek also will enjoy the presence of family and friends, both on the sidelines and nestled in the south stands and C-deck, especially those who could not make the road trip to Illinois.
The experience in Illinois was surreal enough, said Bochenek, who expects the anticipation of Saturday's game to build throughout the week, even up to the whistle blowing to end the first half of the game.
At Illinois, Bochenek said "reality began to set in" at breakfast as fellow band members and others commented about her approaching pre-game performance.
"We lined up for the pre-game march on to the field and I began freaking out -- but freaking out in a good way."
The sousaphone player dotting the "I" gets to choose which band members are directly behind and in front while executing the Script Ohio. Toward the end, the member in front of the dotter splits off to connect the I to the last O, but the member following the dotter remains and a third person, also chosen by the dotter, arrives to meet the dotter at the top of the last O.
Then, in famous and dramatic fashion, the drum major struts off from the formation and leads the dotter to the famed position.
It is a maneuver that dotters such as Bochenek must practice for apart from the regular rigors of marching band practice.
"I've been working with the drum major and some other former I-dotters," Bochenek said.
"It's got to be snappy," said Bochenek, adding the high kicks, dramatic bow and "hats off" salute aren't easy while carrying a 40-pound sousaphone.
After the "hats off" salute at the Illinois performance, Bochenek said she realized, "I just did this, one of my biggest dreams ever."
There to greet her was her former musical director, Lisa Galvin, who taught Bochenek when she was a student at Hilliard Heritage Middle School.
"Lisa was there filming it for me. I hugged her and we both cried. There just aren't words to describe (the experience)."
"It was so incredible to experience it with all these people who helped me get there who have supported me," said Bochenek, who switched to the tuba when she was a high school sophomore. She had played the flute since the fifth grade.
While a student at Darby, Galvin took Bochenek and other students to a "skull session" of the OSU Marching Band, during which the group plays its game-day halftime music, and the dream was born.
"I was in complete awe, astonished," Bochenek said of the precision and professionalism of the band, adding she decided then to set a goal of joining TBDBITL.
Bochenek didn't make the cut as a freshman.
"I remember thinking that I had put all my heart and soul into it and they said, 'sorry, but you're not good enough.' But I was determined and didn't let it stop me."
Bochenek made the band the following year and clearly remembers her first time marching on to the field at Ohio Stadium, during a Thursday-night game against Marshall University.
"I remember looking up into the night sky from just under the stands. The atmosphere that first time, the energy, was still all bigger than I'd imagined."
It has never diminished for Bochenek, who will return as a fifth-year sousaphone player next year -- but so rare is the prestige of dotting the "I" that she does not expect to have the opportunity after Saturday's game.
"I just can't wait to be in front of all my family and friends, and in the 'Shoe, to share this dream."