Color guard puts a good spin on a tough season

High school students were without a coach

`We had faith in ourselves'

Squad created routines, practiced for contests

April 14, 2003|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Theirs was a season that almost wasn't.

For the 12 members of the South Carroll High School color guard, the season started in January with no coach, no sponsor, no routine and no place to practice.

On their own, the girls choreographed a program and set it to music. They scheduled practices and entered six competitions in Maryland and Pennsylvania. They did not win, place or show, but they remained undeterred, driven by their love for their sport.

"I admire them," said Carol Bieler, vice president of Keystone Indoor Drill Association, which organizes regional competitions for about 50 teams in Maryland and Pennsylvania. "They did a very good job with skills they already knew. That is not easy."

Jim Shade, a judge, trainer and an instructor with Keystone Indoor Drill Association, said: "This was not just a matter of getting a group of friends together and putting on a show. This was writing a technically meritorious program, directing it and pulling yourself back into the program to perform it.

"It takes fortitude," he added. "Not many kids have the wherewithal to do it."

Amy Levine, senior co-captain of the South Carroll squad, said enthusiasm and camaraderie helped the team develop and improve its routines throughout the season, which ended this month.

"We just put things together and the girls followed," she said. "We had faith in ourselves. This team is our second family."

The coach from last year's team left the school, and another instructor who worked with the team last fall did not want to continue through the indoor season that started in January. After much pleading from the players and their parents, Principal George Phillips agreed to be their official sponsor.

But the team members' parents chaperoned, chauffeured, sewed flags, built staging and served as pit crew during competitions.

"They practiced together since January and you never heard them grumble," said Karen Mitchell, whose 16-year-old daughter Dani choreographed the program.

Teammates shopped for fabric that would swoosh smoothly when spun from their 6-foot flagpoles.

"You twirl a baton, but you spin a flag," said senior Erinn Sheridan. "Spinning is much more artistic."

In the fall season of band competition, the color guard leads the musicians onto the field. They accompany the music with intricate spins and tosses of the flags.

Most of their classmates are clueless about what the color guard does, they said.

"I usually ask if they go to football games and then I tell them we are the flag people," said senior co-captain Tricia Mott.

Indoor competitions are about synchronicity. Everybody has to spin in the same direction at the same time to the beat of the music. The players toss the flags, mock rifles and sabers to each other.

"Everybody knows what to do and where to be," said Levine. "You put your body with the equipment and you do everything the same. Catch in the same spot, look in the same direction and spin the same way."

The team chose stark black and white costumes for its routine "Turmoil," an interpretation of the eternal battle between good and evil.

At their first show, the South Carroll color guard lost points for a program that was too short on music. Within weeks, they had expanded a two-minute routine to just under five minutes and cleared the stage with only seconds to spare.

Shade, the Keystone association judge, said he saw the show improve with every competition.

"I was amazed to see the program they put together," he said. "To have high school kids think through those advanced concepts in design was incredible. ... We applauded them on all season."

The judges routinely meet with instructors to critique the show. For this team, they met with the players. Shade found them receptive to constructive criticism.

"They took notes and they were not discouraged," he said. "We had good exchanges on building their show and what they needed to do to make it work."

Despite repeated losses, the team was determined.

"If you are going to do this, you are going to have to love it," said Levine.

Recalling the wrist injuries, the bruises, the torn flags, the bus that never arrived and the difficulties keeping track of equipment, Gem Nenninger, mother and volunteer, said, "This whole season has been one turmoil after another."

They practiced 12 hours a week in the school cafeteria, after class and early Saturday mornings. No-shows were rare, even at 7 a.m. Mitchell led warm-ups, drills and rehearsals, assigning a maximum of 10 pushups to those who "messed up royally," she said.

Mott and Levine, the most experienced spinners, took turns critiquing the show. They taught the steps, the tosses and the spinning.

"We had to walk a fine line between being an instructor and being part of the show," Levine said.

Mothers kept flags stitched together and made a backdrop of nine black curtains.

Nenninger said that "the season of withouts" taught the team endurance and responsibility. "They all kept up their grades, too," she said, adding that five of the team members were invited into the National Honor Society.

The team plans to give "Turmoil" a few more spins at area middle schools, hoping to encourage others to join the color guard. Nellie Glover, a Mount Airy Middle School eighth-grader who handled the team's props this season, said she is ready to spin next season.

"This is one of the best things I have ever seen," she said. "I will definitely do guard."

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