Thursday, November 5, 2015

So What's the Big Deal About Winterguard Anyway?

It's hard to imagine how one sport, particularly a sport no one seems to know anything about, could change a person's life. But it can. And don't try to tell me it's not a sport. 

Winterguard is known as the Sport of the Arts, and we know you probably haven't heard of it. Even Blake Lively, whose face was photoshopped onto a performer of the Pride of Cinncinati, called it a "dance troupe." Guard is not a dance troupe. It is a sport where thousands of scholastic and collegiate performers audition every year to spend an absorbent amount of money to acquire bruises, blood blisters, and one-shot performances. It is a season of endlessly long rehearsals, frustrated sectionals, early morning uniform checks, and cramped bus rides.

So we know what you're probably thinking. Why do people do it? 

We do it to be a part of something bigger. If we wanted a regular workout we'd hit the treadmill. If we wanted a regular sport we'd play basketball. If we wanted a regular performance, we would learn to play an instrument, act, or dance. Guard is something completely different. It is a team that devotes itself solely to the final product as a whole. Performers practice to better themselves individually so that they do not hold the group behind. Staff members dish out every bit of instruction they know with the hope of creating a production better than any judge or crowd has seen before. But guard is not just about rehearsing and performing. It's about memories. It's about inside jokes, nicknames, and traveling to new places. It's about decorating charter bus windows, big/little gift exchanges, team member performance bracelets, and so much more. It's about friendship. It's about tradition. It's about loyalty. It's about being a part of something that changes the lives of everyone in it.

We do it because it improves our resume. We are tough, determined, fiercely motivated powerballs who refuse to quit. The word "can't" is not in our vocabulary; if you tell us we can't, we turn around and say "watch me." We don't waste any time because we're used to not having any. We plan down to last detail because it's all we've ever known. We are not afraid to ask for help. We take instruction and criticism with ultimate grace. We are always working to be stronger. We set aside our personal drama for the benefit of the team. We know how important our job is, whether it's in the workforce or on the guard floor. If we give up, we don't just let ourselves down, we let others down, and we are simply unwilling to let that happen. Wouldn't you want a guard girl working for you?

We do it to know what it feels like to shine. Everyone knows what it's like to miserably fail, and hopefully everyone knows what it's like to feel happy. Hopefully everyone knows what it's like to be proud. But a strong performance with the people who helped you pour out your blood, sweat, and tears (literally!) can make you feel invincible. We all know what means to be confident, but a guard girl knows what it's like to shine. We have a drive within us that is unparalleled.

We do it because it makes us better people. On my first day of guard camp in high school, we were told by our technician, "Not everyone is capable of doing guard. It is a special activity designed for special people like you," and he couldn't be more right. Guard is a genuinely impressive, unique, and special activity designed for creative minds and talented athletes. There is a common saying describing guard that couldn't be more accurate: For those who understand, no explanation is needed. For those who don't, no explanation is possible. When you join, guard requires that you give up your individuality for the sake of the team, but when you leave, you emerge knowing more about yourself than you ever did before. It forces us to be organized and work harder than we did previously. It forces us to be mature. It forces us to be selfless. And we become better people because of it.

Missouri State University is home to three independent winterguard programs: 901 Performance Ensemble, National Avenue, and The Pride of Missouri State. "[Guard is important because it] is an opportunity for students to explore and develop skills in a performing art that requires physical strength and mental focus," John Sullivan, head director of the Missouri State winterguard programs says, "Through the activity, you learn life lessons like commitment, dedication, respect, camaraderie, and appreciation while learning technique of rifle, flag, sabre, and dance. Guard can be a means for performers to 'step out of their comfort zone' as they are suddenly meeting new people and trying new things. I have seen shy people suddenly blossom into outgoing individuals, and I have seen performers become more confident as a direct result of their achievements they experienced in guard."

I, personally, was one of those wallflower performers before my time here at Missouri State. The 2015 winterguard season really changed things for me, boosting my confidence as I and 20 other performers "stood in the rain" and gained the confidence to walk out of "foolish games."

Members of these groups compete in numerous competitions throughout the season. Their work and sacrifice is often overlooked by their university and their peers, but they refuse to quit. "Collegiate performers have to make sacrifices to be in guard, especially as they reach the latter years of their degree program," Sullivan says, "As classes advance in their degree program, the demands become more urgent and difficult. I am always thankful for those who make guard work with their academics."

Obviously, academics are the reason these performers are at Missouri State University in the first place. Every member on a Missouri State winterguard is a college student in pursuit of a degree and a career. We aren't just here to spin, though that might be what we often say. But academics aren't the only sacrifices we make to continue in the sport we love.

Like any performing art, winterguard is not cheap. Some performers work up to three jobs to fund the sport they love. Others skip collegiate events and spring break vacations to ensure they have enough money to spin their next season. But unfortunately, this is not always enough.

We are regular college kids in need of financial assistance. Our fees go toward flags, poles, tape, equipment, floor paint, costumes, makeup, hairpieces, etc. Guard is a very expensive activity, and every year we have talented individuals take seasons off because they do not have the money to compete. We don't want to deny any of our members a chance to compete, perform, and make memories with the rest of their team, but sometimes we don't have a choice. That's why we need your help.

We aren't asking for a miracle donation of thousands of dollars. We understand your budget is tight. Believe me, so is ours. All we ask is that you take a moment to consider donating what you can to give us what we want more than anything this season: security in knowing we will be able to afford our favorite activity. We are extremely thankful for any assistance you can give, whether it's $5 or $500, or simple moral support as an audience member. We would love to see you at our next competition.

Find us at various shows on the MCCGA and WGI circuits. Email for more information. 

To help out members of the Pride of Missouri State Winterguard, National Avenue Winterguard, and 901 performance ensemble for their 2017 season, please donate on the Missouri State Crowdfunding Webpage. The staff and performers greatly appreciate any of your help and/or support you can provide.