The Man Behind the Baton Toss [Watch]

Don Hart flings a stainless-steel baton more than 100 feet in the air, and the full spectrum of human emotion crosses his face: hope, fear, disappointment, triumph.

But wouldn’t your face be a billboard for tension, too, if you were heaving a metal bar that would accelerate more than 30 feet per second, hitting 100 mph, before you tried to catch it with fingers it could snap like 1/8-inch twigs?

After all, one of Hart’s successors had to give up the sport because he broke too many bones.

Ever since he was a drum major in the early ’60s, Hart has returned almost every Longhorn Alumni Band Day to reprise the tricks he learned 50 years ago in the Showband of the Southwest.

For many, it’s become the most hotly anticipated part of Alumni Band Day. The crowd explodes every time Hart catches the baton, and groans every time he misses it.

The cameras zoom in on Hart, blowing his face up on the Jumbotron. He didn’t know they did that until this last Alumni Band Day, when UT played Kansas—and he was a little embarrassed. To him, the focus should not be on the baton tosser but on his talented bandmates.

“It’s gotten kind of ridiculous lately—people think it’s a great big deal,” he says modestly. “I was a whole lot better way back when. We’ve got all sorts of magnificent people in that band. I’m one of the more pitiful members they’ve ever had.”

A little back story on the reluctant star of the show. A Leander native, he graduated as valedictorian but is quick to point out he wasn’t in the top 10 percent of his high school class—there were only 9 students.

Leander was so sparsely populated, its band marched the fifth through 12th grades together. The part-time band director (shared with Hutto) eventually put Hart in charge.

He went on to play tuba and then rise to drum major in the Longhorn Band. And in 1964, Hart experienced one of the greatest thrills a college musician can have: leading the first band in an inauguration. He did so for President Lyndon Johnson’s parade.

He’s only missed a handful of Alumni Band Days since. At his next birthday, he’ll turn 70.

How long will Hart keep doing it? As long as he can, energized by the fans.

“The crowd sympathizes with you when you foul up,” he says. “In the Longhorn Band, that was horrible. In the Alumni Band, it’s not too bad.”

Photo: Don Hart in the 1964 Cactus. Video: Courtesy Earl Miller Productions and UT Athletics.


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