The Windsor High School Winter Guard program has been in existence for only three years, but it’s making quite an impression around the state.
Windsor’s winter guard teams — Spirit and Essence — performed at Reg Figal Gymnasium in Windsor on Saturday, hosting 30 other teams from Colorado Springs and Denver to northern Colorado in the Rocky Mountain Color Guard Association Winter Guard Northern Show.
Each performance carried with it a story. The Spirit group shared with the audience the tale of a childhood romance and how it persevered throughout the many seasons.
“This is a great way to express yourself. It is very challenging and fun. I really enjoy this sport,” said Spencer Hart, a junior performing with the Essence group.
Just a week ago, the Essence won the preliminary and finals at the Winter Guard International Regional event in Denver.
What’s the difference between the traditional color guards who perform with the marching band on Friday nights during the football season and the winter guards who perform inside a gymnasium?
According to WHS coach Melissa Claeys, who is also the co-director for the Pride of Windsor Marching Band, the biggest differences are that the winter guard performs to recorded music inside a gym on a 50-by-70 painted vinyl floor with more technical performances than in the fall.
“I think it’s fairly impressive what these kids do. It’s a four-minute performance that depicts a concept or a story,” Claeys said. “It’s so much more than outside on the field. It’s gotten to the point where we actually view winter guard as our intensive season, and the fall season as our training season.”
Setting up and breaking down the floor is also part of the competition.
The Windsor High School slogan is “Art in Motion,” where the participants exhibit visual artistry put in motion through body and dance using sabers, flags and rifles.
“It’s very expressive and very athletic,” Claeys said. “The kids are in shape.”
Twenty four students — 5 boys and 19 girls — are members of the two Windsor squads with the Essence being the more experienced of the two. There are different divisions in the RMCGA circuit depending on experience. The two Windsor squads compete in separate divisions, and the RMCGA has participants ranging in age from elementary school students to performers in their 40s. The Windsor squads compete in the scholastic regional divisions. Each Windsor participant had to pay $250 this season to cover uniforms, equipment and other things.
Claeys said having boys in the winter guard is important because they have the strength to toss a rifle and catch it.
“In the winter guard it’s more common to see guys during the inside season,” she said. “They’re just really good at it. They’re really good with the equipment because they have the muscle to do it and do it real precisely.”
Jordyn Kopcow, a junior who is the co-captain of the Essence as well as the captain of the fall color guard squad, has been in both color and winter guards since her freshman year.
Jordyn said winter guard, which has a season that goes from November through March, is more of a dance group where the focus is on different kinds of movements.
“With winter guard, you can be more open to different kinds of styles of dance,” she said. “I like both, but I like winter guard more because you can do so much more things and I like the competition better. It’s more artsy. Some people don’t know what winter guard is, but it involves dance, flag and rifles. It’s something that is really exciting to watch.”
Jordyn remembers when the program was in its infant stage in 2011-12 and how it’s grown since then. “We started out my freshman year with a really small team, and then there are a lot of people who have joined in my grade,” Jordyn said. “Now we have two teams and we only had one before, and we’re both competitive this year. It’s a growing program.”
Essence co-captain Addie Hummel, a junior who has also been in color guard and winter guard since ninth-grade, said there is so much dedication and effort involved.
“It’s a really good bonding with all the people you’re involved with,” Addie said.
Addie said she enjoys winter guard a lot more than color guard.
“The atmosphere is a lot more easy going and different teams make new friends from around the state,” Addie said.
The two squads practice 12 hours a week, and Addie said performing can be quite a challenge.
The state championship, something the first-year Windsor team won in 2012, is March 29 at the University of Denver’s Ritchie Center.
“From getting first at regionals, we definitely have a chance,” Addie said.
Kathy Rickart, a winter guard sponsor and supporter for WHS, has a granddaughter, Brittany Oelschlager, on the Essence and grandson, Zach Oelschlager, on the Spirit. Rickart enjoys watching her grandchildren perform.
“It’s just awesome because it’s so artistic. It’s relaxing and you just see a side of your grandkids that maybe you wouldn’t have seen otherwise,” Rickart said. “It’s a performing art.”