Ever since he picked up a tuba for the first time to join New Albany Middle School’s band, Chase Rudy has fielded questions about whether he wanted to dot the “i” in the Ohio State University marching band’s famous Script Ohio formation – a decades-old honor traditionally reserved for senior sousaphone players.

The 22-year-old fifth-year senior will do just that in front of more than 100,000 cheering fans at the last home football game of his Ohio State marching band career Saturday, Nov. 23.

The noon game against Penn State also will be the undefeated Buckeyes’ Senior Day.

“I’m super excited,” said Rudy, who is majoring in mechanical engineering and expects to graduate this spring.

It will be Rudy’s second time to dot the “i” this year and his first as the honored solo dotter, but his path to serving as the hallowed punctuation mark began a decade ago in New Albany.

Rudy was introduced to the band when he was a New Albany sixth-grader. His father, Alan Rudy, had played saxophone in middle school and was the drum major for his high school, and he encouraged his son to try band, as well.

Rudy decided he would play the tuba.

“I just thought it would be interesting,” he said.

The tuba led Rudy to the sousaphone he will play Nov. 23.

Rudy said the instruments are played in the same way. However, the handheld tuba is meant for band concerts, and the sousaphone is designed for marching because its circular tube wraps around a musician’s body, making it easier to carry, he said.

New Albany roots

Alan Rudy said he helped his son learn to play the tuba as a middle schooler.

He said he had enjoyed the camaraderie, challenges and leadership opportunities when he was in the band as a youth, but Chase’s accomplishments have added to those feelings.

“Proud is not enough of a word,” Alan Rudy said.

Chase Rudy’s skills in both marching and musicianship had surpassed his own many years ago, Alan Rudy said.

“As a parent, that’s what you want,” he said.

Rudy was in the marching band at New Albany High School, where he graduated in 2015. During his time there, he grew close to band director Darren Falk, who taught marching band and concert band.

“He was always very positive,” Rudy said.

Falk said he stays in touch with Rudy and will be in the stands with Rudy’s family to watch him Nov. 23. They were pictured together during pregame festivities Sept. 7 for an early season matchup with the Cincinnati Bearcats – Rudy’s first opportunity to dot the “i” along with another sousaphone player in dual formations.

In high school, Rudy had a quiet and shy personality, but he possessed a focus and determination for his musical pursuits, Falk said. He also had a natural ability for playing an instrument and a strong work ethic, he said.

Even back then, Rudy’s goal was to dot the “i,” Falk said. He believed if Rudy kept working hard, he could make it happen, he said.

“It’s really cool to see that it is,” Falk said.

Rudy said he was thinking about Ohio State’s marching band throughout high school, watching the band’s innovative formations that often went viral on YouTube. He said he also liked that the band played music people enjoy.

And Ohio State always was his top choice for college, he said, because so many of his family members had attended there.

He said he knew he was making the right choice during his junior and senior years while attending the Ohio State Bands Night recruiting event in which he toured the Ohio Stadium and learned about the marching band.

Tryouts and trying again

During the summer before his freshman year at Ohio State in 2015, Rudy entered tryouts for the university’s marching band. The process could be compared to open gyms for sports teams, he said, in which hopefuls learn the fundamentals necessary to try out for a team.

So for a few months leading up to the start of school, on Tuesdays and Thursdays for three hours each, Rudy joined other students in learning school songs and marching fundamentals from veteran band members.

Tryouts were two full days, from 9 a.m. to noon with a break and then from 1 to 5 p.m. Students were graded on their marching and music-playing proficiency, he said.

Marching, however, was not his strong suit, he said.

“I wasn’t the most coordinated kid,” he said.

After two full days of tryouts, Rudy and other students filed into the band room to hear a list of who had made the band. The event, he said, was a formal affair, with women in dresses and men in suits and ties.

The room was so silent you could hear a pin drop, along with muffled tears of relief or disappointment, he said.

Rudy waited, but he never heard his name.

“I was a little crushed,” he said.

Rudy wasn’t sure about whether he wanted to face tryouts a second time, and he decided to put off the decision and focus on his freshman year. But when he began going to summer tryout sessions as a sophomore, he decided to commit and practiced more, he said.

He ended up making the band as an alternate. He was just pleased to be part of the organization, even though he wasn’t marching in the first football game, he said.

“I was happy as a clam,” he said.

Rudy’s alternate position meant he would need to challenge a regular member of the band in order to get an opportunity to perform during a football game.

Every Monday of rehearsals, he said, the band holds mini tryouts in which the alternates challenge regulars. Those who are to be challenged, he said, don’t learn their status until the band director on that day reads off a list of who is challenging whom.

The process, he said, is how band members stay on their toes, always practicing fundamentals.

During his rookie year, he marched as a regular about half the time, Rudy said. In subsequent years, though, he marched in mostly all the games.

“Everyone gets very good at what they do,” he said.

‘100,000 eyes ... on you’

A process also exists for choosing which sousaphone players dot the “i” during games.

Rudy said “i”-dotting is reserved for fourth-year sousaphone players. Because he joined the band in his sophomore year, he elected to stay on as a fifth-year senior so he would be eligible to participate.

Players get to choose which game they dot the “i” based on who has marched in the most pregame performances during their band career to date, he said.

Seven home games typically are scheduled each season. “I”-dotting also is possible during away games, but the marching band doesn’t always attend each away game because of travel costs, Rudy said. A sousaphone player also might dot the “i” during a professional football game – the marching band performs at one of those each year, he said.

The band has 28 sousaphone players, and 24 march for halftime and pregame performances, Rudy said. On average, seven sousaphone players are in each graduating class.

Rudy’s graduating class, however, included only three sousaphone players.

Rudy was third in his class for most pregame performances marched, so he was third to pick his “i”-dotting game. He said he chose Penn State because it’s one of the biggest games and would close out the home schedule.

Although eligible sousaphone players’ first-game picks offer an opportunity to dot the “i” in a single-formation Script Ohio, other games feature double formations of Script Ohio, offering two fourth- or fifth-year seniors an opportunity to dot the “i,” Rudy said.

Because of this, Rudy and another sousaphone player were the “i”-dotters during the Sept. 7 game against Cincinnati.

The Penn State game, though, he said, will be more meaningful because he will be the solo “i”-dotter.

“All 100,000 eyes are just on you,” he said.

That crowd will include his family and out-of-town relatives who are celebrating Thanksgiving one week early to be able to watch Rudy’s solo moment.

For his part, Rudy said, he is not too nervous because of his years of practice and work leading up to Nov. 23, but he recognizes the significance of the moment.

“After that, then I’m just someone in the stands,” he said.

ssole@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSarah