Charge! Bugle Boys' joyful noise of Sundays past

November 01, 1998|By JOHN STEADMAN

Attempting to silence the Baltimore Bugle Boys in the upper deck of Memorial Stadium became a failed proposition. The first reaction from football management was to bar them from the premises. Then there was a conciliatory proviso: They could attend but would have to leave their instruments home.

The Baltimore Colts general manager, Don Kellett, the best there ever was, wanted to mute the self-styled Bugle Boys of the early 1960s but, after profound consideration, came to his usual good judgment and approved their presence.

It was a decision that drew applause and was almost as important, but not quite, as his signing of John Unitas as a free agent.

So, fortunately or unfortunately, depending on eardrum tolerance, the Bugle Boys lived to play another day. Some seat occupants of the stadium, not enamored of the Bugle Boys, were hoping they would blow their brains out. The controversy surrounding the happy buglers erupted into a cause celebre.

The crux of the matter is that when the Colts were struggling to sell tickets, the Bugle Boys were acceptable. Suddenly, the stadium became crowded, and their patronage wasn't as welcome. A typical scenario of when the public spoils management with its support, financially and spiritually.

For the Colts to think about giving the Bugle Boys such shoddy treatment resulted in much indignation. One sportswriter rushed their defense and cited all the reasons they made a perfect fit for the place that was called "the world's largest outdoor insane asylum."

The group had its genesis in East Baltimore. Three of the buglers were accomplished musicians with the Velvetones, a smooth, play-anything kind of band that was popular at diverse social functions, including weddings, banquets, oyster roasts, crab feasts, goat ropings and even rat killings.

At Colts games, they would take their seats in Section 32, armed with something to drink and their bugles. In unison, they would play the charge call, the same kind of sounds that now electronically come out of the P.A. systems in stadiums all across the country. But with the Bugle Boys, you heard the true natural tones emanating from their horns.

The Bugle Boys even formed their own organization. Milton Szmajda became president. The other original members were Bob Schilling, Don "Ducky" Olkowski, Paul Kozlowski, Joe Kalinowski, Ray Luberecki and the late Melvin Zielski, otherwise known as "Reds" Murphy. A true fun lover was this ever-smiling Zielski/Murphy, a little round man who could dance all night.

"I think he could have been another Fred Astaire," recalled Schilling. "He liked to dance with tall girls. The taller the better. How that 'Reds' could dance. He never missed a step."

The Bugle Boys came to mind the other day when a telephone call from Schilling led to a momentous presentation. He wanted to give us the bugle he had used more than 30 years ago in Memorial Stadium.

We were too choked up with gratitude to make an adequate acceptance speech, except to say it was a highlight of our life. Schilling parted with this link to his past and said he knew it would be well protected in the hands of the old honorary president, ex officio, of the now-defunct Bugle Boys.

The Bugle Boys were once well-known in Baltimore and elsewhere. They printed membership cards, which are probably valuable collectors items, and distributed 16,000 to friends and enemies. Letters to newspapers both praised and denigrated the Bugle Boys:

From Bob Maton: "Try paying $6 for a Colt ticket with the expectations of relaxing and enjoying the game and windup being seated next to or in front of a bugle tooter. Maybe you wouldn't be so quick to take sides with those bugle tooter goofballs."

From Raymond Saunders: "You encouraged the exhibitionism of the Bugle Boys, who, apparently in the minds of most people, are a bunch of juvenile idiots who prefer to annoy other paying Colts fans. "

From Benny Bouchikeri: "If those social status fans of the Colts don't like to hear men having a good time at a football game, like the group you referred to as the Baltimore Bugle Boys, then let them go out and watch Johns Hopkins. We were with the Colts when Bud Schwenk looked like he was playing on roller skates. Where were the big-shot fans with the expense accounts and fancy addresses in those lean days? Forget 'em; we don't need 'em."

The Bugle Boys were misunderstood at first by a few of the complaining types who didn't comprehend their mission. But they ultimately became folk heroes.

Kalinowski, a mean drummer with the Velvetones, even remembers when they went to an Orioles game, using the box seats of their friend, the reporter, and played their hearts out. They were there to end an Orioles losing streak and achieved the purpose.

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