A well-respected figure among judges during Drum Corps International’s early years who went on to serve as the head of DCI judging in the mid-1980s, Joseph Colla, died Sunday, March 31 in North Carolina. He was 80.

DCI Hall of Fame member Dave Richards, who refers to Colla as his “life best friend” reported his passing, a result of natural causes. 

Colla was ushered into the DCI Hall of Fame in 1991, among one of the biggest classes of inductees of all time that included names the likes of George Zingali, Fred Sanford and Dennis DeLucia.

"Joe has been an exemplary leader of drum corps youth. He does it truly for the kids," the late DCI Hall of Fame member Dr. Bernard Baggs once said. "His presence on the DCI contest field emanates confidence, assurance and security that all he touches will be done well and thoroughly."

1991 DCI Hall of Fame inductees
Joe Colla (second from left) and members of the DCI Hall of Fame Class of 1991.


Colla’s solid presence on the drum corps field is one that had its origins in the state of Wisconsin. He got his start in the activity as a snare drummer with the Racine Scouts before joining the Militaires of Milwaukee and later the Starlites run by fellow DCI Hall of Fame member Dave Richards. The two had an instant connection. When Richards was part of the Boys of ‘76 senior corps in Racine, he often had Colla along for his car rides to rehearsals.

As their friendship flourished, Richards encouraged Colla to become a percussion judge where he gained experience with the All-American Judges Association in Wisconsin as well as the Central States Judging Association which was a key body in the early days of Drum Corps International for supplying judges for DCI-run contests. With Richards leading the charge, Colla helped found the Wisconsin Federation of Contest Judges which quickly gained a trustworthy reputation and provided a number of the judges, including Colla, for the 1975 DCI World Championships.

“We became very strong,” Richards said of the Wisconsin Federation. “Mainly because of our drum judges like Joe. We had a raft of drum judges.”

Off the football field, Colla’s subject matter expertise and personal connections made him a regular part of the inner workings and administrative end of DCI judging. Led by DCI Hall of Fame member Jim Unrath, Colla was one of two percussion judge representatives who helped steer the 1972 DCI Rules Congress ahead of the organization's 1973 summer season, which became a landmark event in DCI history. Born from that meeting were the 1973 Drum and Bugle Corps Contest Rules that became the universally-accepted gold standard adopted by nearly every competitive circuit and association across the country from then forward.

Joe Colla (left) with fellow judge Richard Maas during the Prelims of the 1974 DCI Championship in Ithaca, New York.


After a year away from judging to serve a short stint as director of the Kilties of Racine, Wisconsin, Colla picked right back up where he left off. In 1978 he was tapped by DCI executive director Don Pesceone to serve as an assistant to Donald Angelica who at that time headed DCI’s adjudication arm as judge administrator.

Described as an “administratively-focused" individual, Colla had input into how DCI worked with various associations to recruit adjudicators as well as the DCI Judging Task Force which was formed in DCI’s early years to open lines of communication between the DCI judging community and the performing drum corps, both their directors and instructors.

“As a young instructor Joe was always encouraging of my efforts and shared my passion for the activity and the student members,” said DCI Hall of Fame member Charley Poole, who served as percussion arranger of the 27th Lancers in the late 1970s and ‘80s and also on the Task Force. “As an adjudicator, he served as a role model and the infamous card games at DCI meetings were events of legend. I will remember with a smile the impact he had on all our lives.”

1988 Yearbook Page
Colla assumed the role of DCI judge administrator in 1984, a position he held through 1988.


Colla took over from Angelica as DCI judge administrator beginning in 1984, a position he held for five years through the 1988 Drum Corps International Tour.

“Joe was always one of the ‘good guys,’ always patient with those of us crazies,” said DCI Hall of Fame member Michael Cesario. “Even as he headed all DCI judging I can still remember him being able to take time for an extra ‘pat-on-the-back’ or a ‘kick-in-the-pants’ motivation to keep us all going.”

Colla is survived by his wife Judy and two daughters. Judy would spend time on the road with Joe serving as a judging tabulator as part of DCI’s contest crew, often working in conjunction with Dave Richards’ wife Lynette.

Colla on the field of Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City with DCI executive director Don Pesceone in 1989.


While Joe Colla will perhaps be best remembered for his behind-the-scenes efforts in the early development of Drum Corps International, there is one interesting historical footnote shared by Richards that will live on as a sterling reminder of his legacy well into the future. 

“The DCI (Founders) Trophy, that big mother,” said Richards. “He made that by hand. Joe ended his career as a general manager of Outboard Marine Corporation, but he started out as a welder or polisher. He had the knowledge and the ability to do all the silver you see on that trophy.” 

Even as his health began to deteriorate, Colla remained a member of the standing DCI Hall of Fame Committee up until last year, helping to guide the annual selection process of new inductees. He was a man with a metal worker's skill who had a lifelong love of drum corps coursing through his veins.

DCI Founders Trophy
The DCI Founders Trophy (center) has been awarded at the conclusion of the DCI World Championship Finals since the early 1980s.