Winter guard deserves more recognition (and gym time)

March 27, 2015 — by Claire Chou and Isabelle Tseng

One of the school’s strengths is the vast variety of extracurricular activities offered to students. Unfortunately, not all of these activities are recognized equally: sports such as football and basketball are higher profile regardless of how well or poorly the team is actually doing, while others remain under the radar.

One such group is winter guard. 

One of the school’s strengths is the vast variety of extracurricular activities offered to students. Unfortunately, not all of these activities are recognized equally: sports such as football and basketball are higher profile regardless of how well or poorly the team is actually doing, while others remain under the radar.

One such group is winter guard. Technically classified as a “sport of the arts,” this often-overlooked activity requires extensive practice. Members must master skills on equipment and in dance, as well as learn drill, choreography and flag/rifle/sabre work for a 4-plus minute show. Rehearsals consist of a dance warm-up; dance, flag and rifle “technique blocks”; learning and “chunking” through sections of the show; cleaning existing work and full run-throughs.

And for all this, winter guard needs more gym time.

Some might argue that practice could take place outside of the regular twice-a-week rehearsals (Mondays and Thursdays from 6 to 9 p.m.), eliminating the need for the gym. And in fact, members are already expected to spend outside time to practice what they already know.

It’s also true that choreography at least can be taught outside of the gym. But in addition to being a hassle since it requires the guard members to relocate themselves, their equipment and the stereo, this is impractical and dangerous.

Winter guard is a team sport, and a guard show consists of work and drill, both of which require the presence of the entire group and therefore necessitate formal (group) rehearsals. This, in turn, necessitates the use of a large indoor space: the gym.

Even with their limited rehearsal time — which is already far less than that of other schools; Saratoga guard rehearses 6 to 11 hours each week, while competitors average 16 to 20  — the guard has been flexible with their venue. They already switch between each of three possible practice areas (the dance studio, the Small Gym and the Large Gym) to avoid infringing on other groups.

The guard usually begins rehearsal in the dance studio. Though the mirror in the studio is useful, the space itself is much too small to satisfactorily accommodate all 28 members, plus up to four instructors. They are often crowded inside, stretching and practicing dance basics for up to half of rehearsal, when they really need to be working on their show (which requires the use of the gym).

Mostly winter guard practices in the Small Gym. It’s not ideally sized, but it is at least big enough for the guard, their floor and their equipment.

By comparison, the Large Gym — which they rarely get to use  — offers more practice space in addition to bleachers, atop which instructors have an advantageous viewpoint for creating drill forms and for overseeing rehearsals in general. During performances, a majority of the audience, including judges, have a similar viewpoint.

The winter guard maintains a highly competitive standard. In fact, one of its goals is to improve enough to move up a competitive class in the next few years. The administration and music department recognize the issues with gym space, and funds from the Measure E bond are being used to build new gym space in the next few years.

But in the meantime, in order to uphold this standard of excellence, the guard needs more time in the gyms. Not getting their fair share of this gym time results in low competition scores, which results in being discounted as a sport and being de-prioritized for gym time, which results (once again) in lower scores. It’s an unnecessarily negative cycle that can and should be easily broken.

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