By Jackie Thompson
Winter guard is a “Sport of the Arts,” or so boasts Winter Guard International (WGI). It combines athleticism with creativity in the form of spectacular performances. Bellbrook’s winter guard devotes nearly half their year to perfection.
In 2013, Bellbrook’s winter guard finished first in the WGI’s scholastic A class competition. WGI is the foremost authority on all things winter guard and hosts regional and national competitions annually in both the United States and Canada. Conveniently for our guard, WGI is headquartered just twenty minutes away in Dayton. WGI divides competing winter guards into two divisions: scholastic and independent. Guards directly associated with schools, like our own guard, fall under the scholastic division, and those who are not belong to the independent division. From there, guards are further separated into three classes based upon skill. Beginner and intermediate guards belong to the A Class, those of a higher skill level compete in the Open Class, and the most experienced guard perform in the World Class.
Bellbrook’s success in 2013 elevated them from A Class to Open Class, meaning that they’ll be facing off against much more difficult competitors this year. Regardless, senior Rachel Bridgens, captain of this year’s winter guard, is confident she and her teammates will have a great run. “I’d really love to at least make it to finals,” Bridgens says, “and I definitely think this year’s guard has the skills to get there.”
Bridgens has been a part of Bellbrook’s winter guard and color guard since middle school, due to her older sister’s influence. If she was forced to choose, however, she says winter guard is by far her favorite. The two are very similar, but have a few key differences. Color guard synchronizes the music of a marching band to the tossing of flags, rifles, sabers and often choreograph their own dances as well. Winter guard, on the other hand, is essentially a color guard minus the marching band. “With winter guard, you’re able to have a more intimate connection with the audience and more freedom in your routine,” Bridgens explains.
A lot of time and effort is put into designing the winter guard’s elaborate performances. The guard’s director, Byron Valentine, and their design staff work together to create a unique show entirely independent of the marching band. The number of hours logged to orchestrate this spectacle is astounding; Bridgens says she and her guard typically practice eighteen to twenty hours a week, every week, for five months. However, Bridgens doesn’t bemoan her rigorous regime; she actually counts all the hard work as one of the reasons she loves the sport so much. “Winter guard is really a sport that everybody can be good at, provided they practice.” She adds, “You get what you put in and that is incredibly satisfying.”
Bridgens hopes to continue winter guard in college, but the sport isn’t as tightly linked with universities like most sports. Many of the schools she’s applied aren’t known for their winter guards; in fact, many of best upper-level winter guards compete independently. Regardless of whether or not she will join one of these guards in the future, Bridgens says she will always love the sport.
Here is last season’s winter guard show: