Spirit of Atlanta Update


Spirit of Atlanta would like to update the drum corps community on inappropriate incidents that occurred among youth members during the 2021 Tour, and our actions to ensure incidents like it never happen again.


There have been many comments publicly expressed in the past few days. We are extremely remorseful that inappropriate acts occurred, and we continue to applaud the courage of those speaking out. Spirit has not ignored this matter in any way, and we are committed to doing the work to better this organization and safeguard the safety and wellness of its members, staff, and volunteers. In this public forum we will address information documented in the DCI investigation conducted in August through October, 2021.


Following two reported incidents that occurred in the summer of 2021, staff and corps members were questioned both internally and also by a third party at the direction of DCI. The report included every step that Spirit of Atlanta took to listen and to act on the accusations that were made and recommendations on how to improve going forward. While many processes and procedures were found to address the protection of members and staff, more needed to be examined. Spirit of Atlanta and DCI agreed that it was in the best interest for the safety and well-being of all members and staff to reexamine several areas, including increased preventative training and investigative procedures that immediately follow any reports. Moreover, Spirit engaged outside independent third parties with respect to the events reported by the whistle blower and contacted the authorities as a result thereof. The findings of this report were presented to the member who disclosed the incidents and also to her parents on a face-to-face Zoom meeting in early December.


The leaders of Spirit and many supportive advocates know it is time to reflect on and learn from our past and present, while preparing for a stronger future. We are taking this opportunity to pause and look inward and honestly assess the entire organization. We also acknowledge that this activity, especially when a  member may have been harmed in any way, produces passionate debate within our community and on social media. When conducted appropriately, after careful consideration of the verified facts, debate can be healthy and productive.


Open and honest dialogue within the drum corps community is helpful in every way. We welcome constructive, informed criticism, but messages which disparage others without due process have no place within drum corps. We are aware that not every change or decision made will be viewed as enough by our entire family, but we assure you that every decision is made with the best interests of our entire community including members, staff, alumni, and volunteers, the mission, and endurance of Spirit of Atlanta.


We are committed to listening and to making necessary changes to assure the health, safety, and wellness of our members, staff, and volunteers.  To that end, Spirit began meetings and developing improvement plans as early as September of 2021.  Since then, Spirit has taken or will take the following actions as a result of these complaints and investigations:


  1. Spirit has hired an executive director, David Starnes, from outside the organization and he  was not part of the corps this past summer.  Mr. Starnes has been and will continue to conduct a thorough examination of the organization from top to bottom to make improvements in all areas of the organization.
  2. Spirit will adopt a zero-tolerance policy for a list of prohibited activities.  The policy is still under development while we consult with outside third parties.
  3. Spirit intends to engage an independent safety officer that will be with the Corps full time while on tour and in camps with no other responsibilities.  That person will report directly to the Board and Executive Director.  While we are still defining the role of this officer, the goal is to have a well-trained independent advocate for the members to make certain their safety concerns are being addressed with the staff and administration.
  4. Spirit will report to DCI on a quarterly basis providing updates as to our progress with respect to the investigation findings and recommendations.
  5. Spirit is reviewing and overhauling its policies and compliance procedures with third parties to update and ensure compliance and best practices within the activity.


Over the coming months, as we further develop and implement these improvement plans, Spirit will endeavor to timely share those improvements with our Spirit community.  We will be transparent with our actions.  We have a shared vision of continued improvement in every area of the drum corps experience and to always keep the welfare of our family at the forefront.


George A. Dickinson, Board Chair, Spirit of Atlanta Inc.

David Starnes, Executive Director, Spirit of Atlanta Inc.