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Winterguard Witches on a Winning Streak

The winterguard team wins first place twice in a row.
media by photo of courtesy of Margo Sanford
At Prairie View High School, the winterguard team poses with their plaque after winning first place at their competition Feb. 24. This was the second time they won first place this year, this time with a score of 74.190 points. “I [love being] a witch, but my favorite [part of the show] is the trios, it’s so cool,” Heather Strickland ‘27 said.

Picture this: You, along with your team, are performing for hundreds of people in front of you. 

Your character is everything. Perform them in your movement, your face, every movement of your flag, your sabre, your rifle. When you dance, you fulfill your moves. 

“The Pines” by Roses and Revolutions blares behind you, but even then you can hear you and your teammates mutter under your breath, “five, six, seven, eight.” You set down your equipment as choreographed, and with your head down, you walk to the back of your tarp. One step with every “ha” in the song, as the show comes full circle. 

The music stops and you hear a roar of applause, unaware you just made history.

On Feb. 10, the winterguard team went to a competition at Columbine High School, winning first place out of 16 teams. This was the first time they placed first since the creation of the competition six years ago. Similarly, on Feb. 24, the team won first place out of 14 teams for a second time that year. This competition was at Prairie View High School.

Ava Delp ‘27, Sophie Harris ‘26 and Addison Bleile ‘25 stand at retreat to get their first place plaque during their competition at Columbine High School on Feb. 10. The three had different experience levels and parts in the show, but represented their team together. “It was amazing, especially to win my first winterguard competition,” Heather Strickland ‘27 said. Video courtesy of Heather Strickland

“[It felt amazing] to win twice. To show that we are an amazing group is such an honor,” Heather Strickland ‘27 said. 

At the Columbine competition, the guard ended with a final score of 70.060, originally having 72.860 points. There was a 2.8-point penalty due to leaving a sabre on the floor and having to re-grab it, meaning their time passed its limit, as well as eating outside food, which is a new rule enforced by the Rocky Mountain Colorguard Association (RMCGA)

“It felt really good, especially because it was something I never expected to accomplish,” West said. “My favorite part of the show and embracing my character through my choreography, movements, and facial expressions.”

At the Prarie View competition, the guard ended with a final score of 74.190, originally having a score of 74.490. This 0.3-point penalty was due to crossing over the safety line during the performance.

“I expected to be in a similar place to last year, around second, so it surprised me that we surpassed last year’s score so quickly,” West said. 

Heather Strickland ‘27, Ella West ‘25 and Rachel Unsworth ‘28 receive their first place plaque for their winterguard team Feb. 24 at Prairie View High School. The three volunteered to do retreat after their performance, meaning they would stand with other teams when it was time to receive awards. “I love the team I get to perform with and the people I meet,” Heather Strickland ‘27 said. Media by Ally Kelley

Each year, there is a different team with a different show. “The Pines,” a song by Roses and Revolutions, portrays a group of witches, with them summoning each other to meet in the pines. 

“I would describe the show as magical and definitely witchy, dark and sort of like [Taylor Swift’s song,] ‘Willow,’” Strickland said. 

“Our show is about witches in a coven, and shows our journey of forming confidence in our identities as a collective,” West said. “My favorite part of the show and embracing my character through my choreography, movements, and facial expressions.”

“The Pines” features flags, sabres, rifles and lanterns. It is highly performance-based, having one of the members lifted into the air and caught by others. There are ten members on rifle, six on sabre and every member touches a flag at some point. 

Each competition is scored by a panel of judges who cover general effect, design analysis, equipment and movement. They give critiques and offer opinions, which are recorded on tape and used to adjust the show as the season progresses. When a team has one of the top three scores at the competition, they get a plaque saying first, second or third place. 

The Jaguar winterguard team was able to take home the first-place plaque.

Led by coaches Marguerite Sanford and Blair Bickerton, 17 students are a part of the winterguard team, from grades eight through 12. Their skill level varies, but they start learning basics at the beginning of the season, and after winter break they start on the drill and choreography of the show. 

These students worked since December, learning ways to dance, spin flags, spin sabres and spin rifles. They practice three days a week, from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays and from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. on Saturdays.

When a member first joins, they learn the basics of flags, the anatomy of flags, how to do dropspins, flourishes, pull-hits, singles and palm spins. If students would like to, they can learn how to spin rifles and sabres as well. 

“I found it very fun to learn the big 45 toss at the beginning of the year because I found it difficult at first but it was very rewarding to finally get it my first time,” Ella West ‘25 said. 

Depending on the length of the pole, the type of pole, the type of weights and the type of silk, a flag weight varies, but typically the weight of the pole is not a problem for students. These students learn how to deal with pain, and even learn how to perform through it. 

Isha Parkih ‘24 dislocated their finger during one of their performances their sophomore year after catching their j-toss on rifle, and later relocated it during the show. Other students while learning choreography may accidentally hit each other or themselves, especially when learning new tosses.

“Part of the base of my thumb was protruding but I just thought it was swollen,” Parikh said. “Then, during the show right before State, when throwing that same toss, I felt a stabbing pain in my thumb, but the adrenaline kept me going.”

Celina Salazar ‘25 got a concussion her freshman year by throwing a parallel toss on a flag. She didn’t catch it properly and so the pole hit her in the face.

During West’s sophomore year, she hit her lip from a toss and it started to bleed. She didn’t stop her performance until the end of the movement and was able to sit out after telling coaches what had happened. 

“We were in the middle of a standstill run-through during my first marching band season, Transatlantic. My lip split open and it hurt like hell but Blair was directly in front of me and I felt like I had to keep performing. I still have a scar, but it taught me to be a little more careful when doing choreo so I don’t hit myself,” West said. 

Competition lengths vary, however typically they last most of the day. While the team performs around the middle of the day, they have to arrive at practice in the morning, and leave at night. Most of their competitions start with preparations in the morning, a performance.

“My favorite part [of winterguard] is putting time and energy into a show and a team that I care about,” West said.

The team competes next at Mountain Range High School March 16, then at Monarch High School March 30 and finally at the State Championships at the DU Arena April 6.

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