Amid criticism over his decision to employ a sex offender and his handling of members' safety and health concerns, the director of Milwaukee's Pioneer Drum and Bugle Corps was ousted Friday from the group he helped found nearly six decades ago.
In a statement Friday, the activity's governing body, Drum Corps International (DCI), said Pioneer also will sit out the 2019 season and replace its board of directors — a six-member body on which four seats are held by members of the Blenski family. The announcement came one day after the Inquirer and Daily News published online an investigation into the corps.
"DCI will hold a follow-up meeting with corps leadership next week to discuss further terms of the organization's suspension," the Indianapolis-based DCI said in a brief statement.
Blenski could not be reached for comment Friday.
Drum corps, with a devoted fan base, is participated in by thousands of teens and young adults who spend the summer practicing shows that combine marching band, color guard, and theatrics. The corps travel the country competing in pursuit of a national title.
But interviews with nearly two dozen people who have marched with or taught at Pioneer over the last decade show that the group's tours were consistently riddled with problems that included lack of medical staff and unreliable transportation. Members said Blenski has been quick to disregard potentially serious health concerns. Some, including two minors, said they had been dropped off at hospitals for treatment and left there alone.
Blenski also hired a registered sex offender as an instructor in 2017 and planned to employ him for the 2018 tour until, under mounting criticism, he decided otherwise. In an interview this week, Blenski stood by his decision to hire the man.
Some have said the problems at Pioneer have been long known within the tight-knit drum corps community, yet never adequately addressed.
"It's the most well-known secret in DCI. It's why so many of our members leave," said Brett Luce, who marched with Pioneer in 2009 and taught there in 2015. "They march for a year, and then they go to other corps where they're safe and have high-quality experiences. And they tell the story; they tell their new friends. Everybody knows about Pioneer."
The scrutiny on drum corps stated in April when the Inquirer and Daily News published the accounts of nine women who accused George Hopkins, then the director of Allentown's Cadets corps, of sexual harassment or assault. In the months that followed, drum corps member and alumni called for DCI to take more action to ensure members' safety.
DCI passed a new code of conduct, and Dan Acheson, the organization's executive director, was given sole discretion to discipline corps that broke the rules.
Acheson has faced questions over whether he provided enough oversight to Pioneer during the summer tour, which ended this month. DCI received several complaints from Pioneer members during the summer through its online whistle-blower website, though Acheson has declined to say what they entailed.