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About Smith Walbridge

 

Smith Walbridge Camp founders

The Smith Walbridge Camp was founded by Merl and Margaret Smith in 1949 in Syracuse, Indiana as a baton twirling school. Merl was a national baton twirling champion and had served as drum major of the Navy Seabees Band during World War II. Margaret was a twirler and a dancer who merged the two skills making her a pioneer in the dance/twirling world.

The Smith Walbridge Camp was founded by Merl and Margaret Smith in 1949 in Syracuse, Indiana as a baton twirling school. Merl was a national baton twirling champion and had served as drum major of the Navy Seabees Band during World War II.  Margaret was a twirler and a dancer who merged the two skills making her a pioneer in the dance/twirl world.  

In 1950, George Walbridge, also a national champion baton twirler, became a partner for the next 20 years.  In 1952 the drum major clinics were created through the collaboration of the Smiths, Walbridges, and Dr. Charles Henzie, marching band director at Butler University.  Dr. Henzie was considered a leading authority in marching band techniques at that time.  This match proved to be magic and was responsible for a sudden growth in student attendance.

Because this was the first camp in the country offering this special training, the camp’s growth exploded.  Other programs were introduced for majorettes, drill teams, cheerleaders, color guards, and marching / concert bands.  Within a few years the camp grew, attracting over 5000 high school and college students each summer from almost every state and several countries.

In 1983 the camp’s operations were assumed by Gary Smith, son of Margaret and Merl.  At that time Gary was Associate Director of Bands and Marching Band Director at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.  Gary introduced new concepts and methods into the curriculum.  He brought in many nationally famous clinicians and expanded the program to meet the needs of the modern day marching band.  His book, THE SYSTEM Marching Band Methods is used as a resource for the SW clinics and workshops, and is a popular text book for many university marching band methods courses.

In 1990 the camp grounds in Syracuse, Indiana were sold and the clinics were moved to the University of Illinois.  In 2000 the clinics were moved to Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois, where they continue to flourish today.

In 2011 Smith Walbridge Clinics obtained the administration of the Gatorland Band Camps at the University of Florida in Gainesville, FL.  Programs include Concert, Jazz, Colorguard, Drum Major, Instrumental and Marching Percussion.

The clinics at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, IL  includes sessions for drum majors, color guards, marching percussion, marching bands, student leaders, marching band directors, drill designers and mace / signal batons.  Over 1100 college and high school students and directors from across the nation and several foreign countries attend each summer.

Many of the traditions and philosophies dating back to 1949 have been maintained. The fraternal spirit that exists between SW alumni is something special.  There is a spirit and excitement that characterizes the environment during the clinics and workshops.  It is difficult to explain.  It must be experienced.

 

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Smith Walbridge Camp History Gallery

We will be adding more images to this gallery showing the legacy of Smith Walbridge Clinics over history in Syracuse, Indiana.