One is a legacy truly born to it. The other sought a challenge — and found it.
At Natrona County High School, on the competitive sports and music circuits, she was known as “Kit Kat” Gruner. But last year, as a Troopers Drum & Bugle Corps first-year member, she was “Katie,” for her “real life,” as she put it at the time.
Lance Reutlinger will be a senior at Buffalo High School in the fall. For the next 60 days, however, he’s a first-year Trooper.
The Troopers Drum & Bugle Corps is celebrating its 60th anniversary season with pre-season rehearsals in Wyoming. It’s the first time “Wyoming’s musical ambassadors,” have trained in the state in nearly a decade. While remaining headquartered in Casper, an invitation from Drum Corps International to train in Indiana and perform at Indianapolis 500 festivities had them in Indiana for several seasons.
They arrived in late May, spending the first 16 days at the Wyoming State Fairgrounds in Douglas, and are now at Kelly Walsh High School through Tuesday, when they leave at 10 p.m. for the national tour.
The Troopers perform their 2018 competitive show, “The New Road West,” at 7 p.m. on Sunday at KWHS Stadium. Gates open at 6:15 p.m. and the performance is free. Donations for tour expenses will gladly be accepted.
This is what happens when the Troopers come home:
In Douglas, they crashed a wedding held at the fairgrounds, playing “Both Sides Now,” as the bride and groom exited. They soon learned that a relative of the couple, now living in California, was a Trooper in the late 1970’s, and that his parents, also in attendance at the wedding, volunteered in all ways, from tailoring uniforms and working in the food truck to driving a truck on tour.
A general dropped in by helicopter to visit American Legion Boys State, which met at the fairgrounds. The Troopers, their bedheads covered by baseball caps, stumbled over at dawn to greet the general with the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”’
A silly evening noise complaint was quickly extinguished with a scalding letter to the editor supporting the Troopers in the Douglas newspaper.
Last summer, interviewed at all-day rehearsals in Indiana, Gruner admitted her rookie nerves.
“It’s hard. That’s the word for it,” she said then. “I thought it was going to be much easier than it actually is. Twelve hours of rehearsal a day is definitely pretty daunting.”
When asked if the music or the drill was harder to learn, she said in 2017, “I can’t tell you because the music at some point, there are parts where I’m just struggling, and parts in the drill I’m running around not knowing what I’m doing. I would say it’s equal parts beating me up right now.”
Gruner’s parents, Charlotte and Daron, met as Troopers in the early 1990s. But that was no guarantee that she would want to follow in their footsteps, or earn a place once she did.
“This is definitely a lot better than last year,” she said on a sun-splashed June morning at KW. “I do know what I’m doing a majority of the time. I’m shooting for 75 percent.”
She described rehearsing in her hometown as “awesome,” a word she uses frequently, and explained why.
“My parents drop off food all of the time. I get to see my dog on a daily basis.”
The 60th anniversary show symbolizes leaving a big city in the east and traveling west to open spaces and freedom. It also has big, big nods to Troopers shows of old, which left generations of audiences in tears and with goosebumps. Those heavily patriotic, traditional drum corps shows also earned the corps the nickname “America’s corps,” and performances in front of presidents, at inaugural parades and major sporting events, in addition to numerous championships.
“I’m really excited just to perform it and be in it,” Gruner said of the show. “I am so excited for the crowd to react to what we have.”
Gruner will be a sophomore at the University of Wyoming, majoring in the new outdoor recreation and tourism management offering. But first, she has 60 days as a Trooper to go.
Reutlinger is just 17 and has been involved in the music program at Buffalo High School.
“I wasn’t really being challenged by the local band anymore,” he said. “My stepdad, Tyler Sorrell, was a band director, and he said, ‘You ought to check out DCI.’”
Reutlinger said he expected the intensity and “how hard the music is.”
“I love it, but it is exactly what I expected,” he said. What he didn’t expect was how much fun he’d have with the other 150-odd Troopers members.
He admitted after basically being on his own for 80 days, traveling the country from coast to coast in a bus and performing nearly every night, it will be “very odd” to return to high school in the fall.
But he knows what next summer, and summers after that, will entail.
“I am a lifer,” he said in week three. “I have been enveloped by the people, the Troopers and the history. I love every minute of this.”
Follow community news editor Sally Ann Shurmur on Twitter @WYOSAS
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