Monday, April 29, 2013

When The Sun Sets On The Field In Bloomington

“Spring passes and one remembers one's innocence.
Summer passes and one remembers one's exuberance.
Autumn passes and one remembers one's reverence.
Winter passes and one remembers one's perseverance.” 
― Yoko Ono

It's drum corps season again. While the city of Dayton says goodnight to another year of indoor pageantry, an entire activity opens its doors to planning, training, and designing. One season ends and another begins. From winter we move to summer; from winter guard we move to drum corps. It's been this way for decades. It's what we know and it is how we live with this activity of ours that we call pageantry.

I was one of the fortunate ones. I was lucky and I can say that without a doubt, drum corps is the activity that made me who I am today. My strength, commitment to excellence, and refusal to never quit was shaped on the hot field of drum corp and specifically on the field in Bloomington.  Drum Corps was such a powerful force, that years later when I entered the Navy and went to boot camp; it was drum corps that gave me the strength to manage everything the United States military threw at me. It was drum corps that taught me how to use my mind to manage the physical, emotional, and mental challenges that is asked of you not just in the military, but in life as well. It was boot camp though, that made me realize how powerful of a force drum corps was, because as people would cry and struggle through the pain, I didn't. I took whatever was thrown at me and was quickly able to realize what was real and what was a game. There were multiple moments at boot camp where a member of my division would pass out because of exhaustion. In my mind, I would simply say, "Please. We've only been standing here 5 minutes." Having done both, I can look at it now and emphatically say that there isn't much difference between the two. Both require its participants to have personal discipline and the ability to manage anything that is asked of them, no matter how difficult. Both require teamwork and an understanding that it is only with the team that the highest of goals are achieved. Sleep is practically an afterthought as you exist on the lowest rung of Maslow's Hierarchy, until YOU make the choice to start climbing the ladder of self-love, self-esteem, and finally self-actualization.

I marched with the Star of Indiana for 2 summers...1990 and 1991. When I auditioned for Star I had almost no grasp of the activity I was auditioning for and absolutely no idea of the journey I was about to embark upon. So I titled this post, "When The Sun Sets On The Field In Bloomington," because  it is the setting sun that helped create the person I am today.  I remember summer days that seemed like they were never going to end. I remember sectionals with the guard where we never saw the rest of the corps until after dinner and when the entire corps met for ensemble rehearsals, I would just pray I could remember everything taught to me that day so I wouldn't get yelled at in front of 100 plus people. Into the night we carried our sunburns from the day. We were sore and tired. Our bodies were exhausted and our minds on auto pilot. You could smell the lingering sun screen mixed with sweat as a staff member up top utter the words, "Again." We had fought with bugs that at the time seemed like the size of rats, and what we looked forward to our few piddly hours in a sleeping bag on the floor...THE FLOOR! (At least at boot camp we got beds.) But damnit...we loved it, even through the silent tears and that single prayer asking for the ability to get through to another day.

Talking about it makes it seem like it was torture. Who in their right mind pays to deliberately run around a football field in places like Lisbon, Iowa in the hot summer heat spinning a flag?  What about the rain? What about showers? Those questions have been asked to every person who ever participated in a drum corps and everyone I know answers the questions differently. Many people say that it was all worth it because of the shows, the friends, and the crowds. Many talk about the travel and the hilarity of moments on a bus late at night.  All of those answers are true and very real, but I don't talk about any of that. I talk about something different. I always talk about the sun and how it would go down as we stood on the field looking up at our staff guide us to perfection. I tell people about the nighttime dew and how it would start to gather on the grass and how our flags laying in wait on the sidelines would gather a bit of moisture and we would get just a little cold because of our sunburns. It was at that time when performers would grab their corps jackets from their bags to wear for warmth, but mostly to wear for pride. That was the time when I loved drum corps the most. You could feel a sense of accomplishment as the clock ticked toward the end of a long day. There was a sense of camaraderie that didn't exist during the hot peak of the day and it was at night when a performer seems to come to grips with the personal demons they faced throughout the day and sometimes even, the demons living inside their spirit. It was the setting sun that made the weary performer believe in herself.

I loved sunset in Bloomington. I loved that feeling you get after a hard day of work, knowing that each moment is just one tiny thread of an entire seasons accomplishments. I loved seeing the entire staff come together and work in perfect harmony to give us a product we could be proud of. I loved more than anything getting to see how my little piece of the puzzle fit with the bigger picture.

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It was when the sun went down, when a performer starts to realize how drum corps is really a microcosm of the bigger picture of life. It was at night when I felt the most in touch with my fellow performers as well as myself. It was the night time rehearsals when we came together as a team and as we pushed each other and told each other that yes, we can do it one more time. When your body was giving out from exhaustion, it was the members on the field who helped you find your strength to manage the final run through. Watching the sun go down in Bloomington was when I felt most alive and most in touch with life's rhythm. It is truly what I miss the most and I would do anything to stand on that field looking out into the setting sun as I held my flag awaiting the next instruction.

There is nothing like drum corps and no final placement or score would have ever changed that feeling the sun gave me as it fell below the earth every night behind the voices of our staff. I wish every performer this season a wonderful experience. I hope you realize the strength that exists inside you and inside the person marching next to you. I hope you realize that whatever happens to you this summer, will make you an amazing person to know 20 years from now. Because of drum corps, you will be the person people want to work with and hang out with. Because of drum corps, you will find you are some of the most interesting people in the room. Something years from now will happen to you that will test your strength and possibly your will to go on. It will happen. Life will slip up on you and test you in ways you can't imagine right now. Know this, though. When that day comes it will be the spirit of drum corps that will get you through it.  More than anything, I hope that wherever you are, you find your practice field sunset and recognize its beauty and know that its beauty exists inside of you.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Cost of Pageantry...Is It Worth It?

About a year ago, I was asked as a part of my job to do a little field research on the cost of extra-curricular activities on families. The purpose of this task was to determine whether or not the quasi-governmental entity I work for could fund underprivileged children's participation in youth activities to help level the playing field in areas of education and the obesity epidemic. If funding wasn't possible, then the project at the least would allow us to advocate and create position papers on why it is not only important, but necessary that all children have access to extra-curricular activities. What I came up with was not shocking to anyone who has been around youth activities for any length of time and in fact, much of the research was already done for me by author, Mark Hyman who wrote a book called, "The Most Expensive Game In Town: The Rising Cost of Youth Sports and the Toll on Today's Families." 

Anyone who knows me well enough knows that I'm an advocate for research and statistics. I've spoken about it on this blog, on Facebook, circuit meetings and anywhere anyone will listen. I think they are vital to not just understanding our culture, but without it we can't create public policy that makes sense and we can't really understand ourselves. Without data, our lives just go on moment to moment without any true understanding of the connections to those around us. We never truly know the answers to the why's and debate is almost pointless.

In my brief bout with researching extracurricular activities, I looked at dance, drama, hockey (note to self...way to expensive), tennis, golf, beauty pageants, every ball sport imaginable, and of course music, band, and winter guard. The project put me in touch with numerous people who were writing blogs on the cost of youth athletics. I had many phone calls with parents, coaches, and national industry leaders. Their opinions were sometimes shocking and sometimes appalling. Some of their opinions however, were ones of great concern for the direction youth activities are taking in this country and how youth activities are becoming less affordable and more white.

This is what we know and what research already tells us. If you can get a kid in any activity that requires discipline at an early age, they will be less likely to drop out of school, less likely to have issues with sedentary behavior, lower obesity rates, a stronger work ethic, and friends who are more likely to not participate in self destructive behaviors outside of the norm of teenage insanity.

So when looking at these sports activities several trends kept popping up that eventually became the recommendation from me that it would not be possible for us to fund youth activities at a rate that would make a significant difference. Unfortunately, in the world of funding "significance" is vitally important, especially to the tax payer. Here are just a few reasons my recommendation was a fairly definitive no:

  • Transportation 
    • Ever wonder why kids quit? Ask about transportation first.
  • Additional and hidden costs outside of the original contract
  • Parental Involvement that is not the issue of the parent, but issue of the activity and its unrealistic expectations
  • Fundraising based on poor budgeting, poor planning, and surprises 
  • Seasons that last for an entire year and not just a "season"
  • Unregulated activities that could put children at risk such as a lack of consistency in background checks, lack of training for coaches, lack of understanding of youth development, and a lack of consistent data to prove need
When I looked at all the activities, I realized something that became very clear to me. Pageantry, with all of its issues is probably the cheapest activity with the biggest return on investment. The problem with pageantry; marching band, winter guard, winter drum line, and drum corps, which are cheap comparatively to other activities, is that we exist under the radar. When you live under the radar, what might seem the best answer for the time can actually harm the ultimate mission. Pageantry falls into the traps that other sports do. It exhausts the household budget and doesn't give parents much of a reprieve if the child participates at the state or national level. Just like other sports, there are good programs and bad. There are good instructors and bad instructors. One thing that I did notice in my research is that the pageantry arts for the most part does not take a strength based approach to training its instructors. A person barely in their 20's, with no teaching background, no experience managing money, no experience managing facilities, and no understanding of risk management can find themselves in charge of a guard program.  Band is a little different as the director usually must have a college degree and is governed by the school they are hired by. Sometimes though, even a band director has little understanding of what their tasks are as they try to balance students, parents, administration, and budget. Many of the budgets take on well over 6 figures a year and parents are asked to pay into those budgets without much understanding as to what they are really paying for. 

Now, pageantry is not the only sport to have these problems, but our problems are unique in the sense that there are no "private clubs" to sign your child up for to make them better for the "varsity team." There are no "little league" winter guard programs for the elementary children to participate in and compete against. Parent's don't put their children in marching band with the hope of getting a college scholarship or playing for the non existent professional league or Olympics. The majority of parents see marching band and winter guard as a good activity to keep their child busy, teach them a lesson or two, and get them some much needed exercise. Some parents unfortunately see pageantry as a fairly expensive baby sitting service without truly grasping its true beauty and the passion involved. The community certainly doesn't see the passion, the work, and the benefit. So, with all we do and with all the expense, we aren't seen as a major player in the world of youth activity, even though we serve thousands a year. 

I'm often amazed that with as many people in this country that have participated in marching band, drum corps, and winterguard, that there are still people who ask what the hell it is. This makes fundraising and advocating for funds difficult. The beauty of pageantry is that we have virtually gone unnoticed by big marketing and companies such as Nike, Gatorade, and Under Armour. When a kid joins the band, there aren't big hopes of going to the Olympics in 4 years. A student holding a trombone for the first time as a 5th grader doesn't usually have visions of playing the Star Spangled Banner at the Super Bowl one day. They are usually just playing because it's fun. We have managed to create an activity that is one of the few ones left untouched by big business. We haven't been tainted by the buying and selling of the talents of children. It's a double edged sword, though. Being under the radar makes it very difficult to create community buy-in and buy-in is exactly what we need right now. We need it, because it is becoming too expensive and we are pricing families out of it. We are pricing families out who have never been priced out before. Much of this is the fault of the economy, but some of it is the fault of an activity who hasn't looked at ways to bring costs down. In all reality, if my child came to me today and said he had been accepted by one of the top 12 drum corps, I'm not sure he could march. We simply don't have that much disposable income. 

This is unacceptable! 

We need every kid who wants to pick up an instrument, play a drum, spin a flag, or dance a phrase to be able to. The costs of the actual program are just the start, because we also have to consider that by the time a child reaches high school, the family has been paying for years of athletics, might have other children, and are saving for college...and this is just middle class. 

We are an activity that CAN get kids through high school. If we can figure out a way to get music, dance, and flags in their hands starting in elementary school, then we might just have an advocate for life. I can see a world where children who grow up in poverty will get the gift of music and with that we build their math skills, passion for school, and a place that is safe and monitored. 

How do we do it?

Well, we start by understanding that the solution lies in the longevity of the activity. We create buy in by the people who have already participated. We build a case. We say that every kid and parent who wants to play can, because the community is going to support them. We figure out the transportation problem once and for all. We make it unacceptable for any parent to say that their child can't participate because the school is too far away and they can't afford the cost of gas. We figure out how to lower the costs of participation fees by getting the community to give us gym space, stages, and field time. We teach instructors how to consign equipment, uniforms, and save on travel. We teach instructors and directors that maybe they shouldn't make every season a travel season to Dayton, so they can raise funds in the off year. We make sure that instruments and long term instruction on how to play those instruments get into the hands of every child who has ever desired to play. We professionalize instruction and do our best to insure that none of our instructors end up as the opening story to the nightly news for inappropriate actions with a minor or misappropriating funds. We make it unacceptable for the community and private sector to turn their backs on the activity. We show them that with their investment children graduate high school, which ultimately brings unemployment and the crime rate down. Seems pie in the sky? Well, we use to fund little league baseball for that very reason. 

We build a case. We collect data and prove that with the long term participation in the pageantry arts that children have a better chance of graduation and higher rate of entering college. We take the thousands of alumni of this activity from decades of pageantry and we speak in one voice that we want every child to experience the passion we had the luck to experience. We stop writing proposals at the local and national level that focus on the needs of a few units and that almost border on the nature of ego and greed. 

I was brought this up to a friend of mine once. He said that if a student wanted to participate they could. He said that the parents were just lazy. The fee for the program he teaches at over the course of an entire school year is approximately $3,500. Even with fundraising, that amount of money for many families is virtually impossible. I asked him point blank, "How do kids who are poor fund raise  when most fundraising for youth activities occurs within the community they live?" There was no answer. I then asked him how a single mother would manage transportation with rehearsals over 3 times a week, football games, and shows on Saturdays. What if she worked shift work and the child doesn't live in the community with the school, but takes a bus in? So the answer is that we just say, "It was luck of the draw kid. Sorry."

You see, these are all considerations that I believe is time to discuss, because it's not just flags in a gym anymore. I know people that have said this activity saved their life and in the times we live in, our children could certainly use this activity. We have to ask questions, debate, and find solutions. We have to create a community advocacy plan and speak the same language from the national level all the way to the local community recreation centers. We need people at the state capitols and in Washington. This is not just about music education, because if it were we would just leave it up to the school systems, which are already under funded and under staffed. 

I believe that this problem is complex and the solutions aren't easy, but I believe if we do it right, then we can turn a generation of kids on to pageantry in a way that has never been imagined. I can see a day where the Dayton floor is made up of the melting pot of the U.S. Census and not one of income disparity. It's time to re-imagine the picture of what pageantry is and see if our reach can go way beyond to floor of Dayton and the football field of Indianapolis. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

A Poem From The Hopi Indian Nation To Help Us Reflect On The Journey

When you were born into this world the universe gave you a gift. It was the gift of colorguard. If only for one year or for one season, this gift has changed who you are. It gave you friends you will never forget and moments that will be stalled in time for the rest of your life. Your youth is forever changed. Whether it was  just one year or your 30th year in the activity, it got inside you and you will never be the same again. It's amazing that this activity was found by accident for many of us. We responded to a flyer hanging on the wall of the school or a friend talked us into it, because we had nothing else to do. I believe however, that the activity finds us; we don't find it. It's the hand of fate. It's soulful and it's as real as life can ever be.

For many people the season is over, but there's a handful that is headed to Dayton. It's time. You are about to perform in the show of your life. It's the world championships and you will never forget it, regardless of the outcome. Before you step on the floor take a moment to reflect on this wonderful journey you have been on. Listen to the souls of those that came before you and take as step forward for those that will come after you. Reflect on the fact that very few people in the world will ever participate in anything called, "The World Championships." Live in the moment and thank the universe for your gift of performance, of art, of friendship, and mostly of pageantry. This is your time and it will never come again.

The following poem come from the Hopi Nation. The word "Hopi" means "peaceful people." They believe that we are one with all beings we share this earth with and believe in the connection and synergy of community. They believe in the connection we have with our past and that there is no future without learning how to truly live in the present. This poem is for you. Read it and reflect on its meaning. Let it become a part of you and good luck in Dayton.

You have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour.
Now you must go back and tell the people that this is the Hour.
And there are things to be considered:
Where are you living?
What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Are you in right relation?
Where is your water?
Know your garden.
It is time to speak your Truth.
Create your community.
Be good to each other.
And do not look outside yourself for the leader.
This could be a good time!
There is a river flowing now very fast.
It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid.
They will try to hold on to the shore.
They will feel they are being torn apart, and they will suffer greatly.
Know the river has its destination.
The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of
the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water.
See who is in there with you and celebrate.
At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally.
Least of all, ourselves.
For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.
The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves!
Banish the word struggle from your attitude and your vocabulary.
All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.
We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

-The Elders, Oraibi, Arizona Hopi Nation

Dayton Memoirs: Headquarters

The shows are done. They have been toiled over and cleaned. They have been judged. Kids have quit. Parents have raised funds. Some shows were successful. Some were not. will never forget. There were instructors who thought they were better than they were. There were kids who thought they knew they more than their staff. Many tried to find meaning in their journey. Many were too busy to care and lost the meaning along the way. Lessons were learned. Some of those lessons were hard. Tears, cheers, happiness, sadness, anxiety, and depression. This all happened in the course of a season. January to April was what it was. We saw the season change from winter to spring; from football to baseball. The world kept going round while we spun our flags. January seemed like a lifetime ago and many of us ignored other aspects of our lives while family, friends, and employers stood idly by waiting for our return from the vortex called winter guard. For some of us with kids the song, "Cats in the Cradle," holds a special meaning as we jotted off from rehearsal to show to airport.

It's done. The season is over. They showed their local circuit who they were and now it's time for the Big Dance. Dayton...It's time for Dayton. No other city, with such little to offer has ever been held on such a high pedestal. The week starts on Wednesday and from then on through Saturday they arrive; the guards and the fans; performers, judges, instructors, parents. They all arrive and regardless of their task, many of them end up in the nexus called Headquarters.

Ahhhh...headquarters. Never has such one word brought so much energy to it. It's the place where people are sought out and star sightings are reported. It's the place where court is held and the season culminates into a festival of hugs, conversation, friendship, and alcohol. Memories are made at headquarters and to be spotted there with the right people is the pageantry equivalent to Studio 54.

It's the adult party of the year and many of us never miss it. This place, this oasis from the arena is a little like the bar scene from Star Wars.

When people say, "Headquarters," we all know what they mean. It's the cocktail party of the year. Some of the hi-jinks and events that occur there are talked about for years to come. People move from bar to lobby to bar stool to table, as they see old friends from years back and new ones made just within the few show weekends we had with each other.  Pageantry is a place where lifelong friendships are be formed as we travel the journey of a winter season and headquarters is the place where those friendships are rekindled.  As the week of nationals goes on and more and more people arrive, the place to be is in the lobby to watch the double doors open from the outside, just to see who is walking in next. In our world, it truly mirrors, "star sightings."

"Oh, look. There's such and such. He's judging world finals."

"'s the Pride staff."

"Oh look who the cat drug in."

"Girl, did you see his show this year? What was that?"

Headquarters has its share of love, hugs and sometimes even its share of cattiness. It's not always perfect and people aren't always as nice as they should be, but those moments are rare and those people are few and far between.

Headquarters is the place where the instructors and judges pass each other in the lobby on the way to one of the shows. The instructor and judge will look at each other. Acknowledge each other's presence and maybe even try to attempt a slight hug, but not to show instructor/judge impropriety, but just enough for the judge to say, "I'm done judging Friday night. We'll hang out then."

Headquarters. It's the place where on Friday night you start to see the first sign of the medals worn by the deserving staff's from A finals. They're so happy and many of us just want to get close enough to them to say, "Congratulations. It was well deserved."

In the course of a week, this Marriott goes from average Midwest hotel to something that brings together a world of people separated by miles, but not passion and a world that brings a level of craziness that one doesn't often see outside of Dayton, Oh. If you are lucky, you get to see Sebastienne St. Jacque wearing blue tights and doing a routine that can only be described as "special." He is the proud director of the worst guard in the activity...Convalescence. Sebastienne spends his season adding humor to our lives by taking jabs at himself and the activity. He says what many of us want to say as we sit secretly behind our computer screens laughing at his Facebook posts. Will there be a Sebastienne sighting this year?

Headquarters. It's the place where people open their rooms to old friends they haven't seen in a year and the place where regular hotel rooms become a place of the antics of pageantry. My great friend Mikey asked once if the business travelers throughout the year who stayed at the Marriott had any clue what this hotel looks like during the week of WGI. It's the place that just the week before hosted the NCAA tournament. The Dayton arena goes from basketball jock to pageantry queen in a week and the Marriott see's it all.

Many people put much thought into what they will wear as the week goes on. They get their hair coiffed, nails done, and shop just for the right "look."

Headquarters is all of this. It's absurd. It's insane and at times is wickedly funny. What I like most about it is that it's ours. When we return from our lives in Dayton and Monday morning comes, there is a general sense of pride we all share that we just had a week that can't be explained. Through our exhaustion we smile just a little bit more knowing that our Dayton experience would truly be envied by people who lead ordinary lives. In all of what headquarters is, it is mostly a place where friends meet and memories are shared from years spent doing pageantry together. For 72 hours, we put our differences aside and find our common ground inside of the nexus of friendship and shared passion. Headquarters...sometimes I like to refer to it by using a quote I once heard in Star Trek, "...a doorway to a paradisaical place."  Headquarters is not Hawaii or a cruise to the Caribbean. It isn't anything the media would ever report on and we don't have a red carpet to walk down. What we have is each other and a place where we can find our lifetime friends that we haven't seen in years. It's ours and it's our place to celebrate the work we put into the season that helped those young performers have the moments of their lives. It's for the instructors, the judges, the parents, and the staffs of each circuit and each guard. 

For me, it is the place where I get to see Mikey and Ron and Jolie and Kurt. It's the place where I get to thank the people who gave me so many great memories throughout the year. It's the place where I get to laugh until my sides ache and the place that if I don't leave exhausted and with a full heart, means I didn't do it right. It's Headquarters and it's ours.

See you in the bar!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Have Confidence...You Made It!

Have Confidence!

Music makes the world go round. People have songs that make them happy or sad. There are songs that bring comfort, songs that create or bring back memories, songs that anger, excite, motivate passion, or empathy. There are songs that cause every emotion that a human being is capable of. I love music.

Several years ago, like so many before me, I fell in love with the soundtrack to William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet staring Leo DiCaprio and Claire Danes. I had this soundtrack playing on repeat for weeks; it was such a great mix up of songs that just meant alot to me at the time. I rediscovered the cd when I was teaching at Belleview High School based out of Belleview/Ocala, Florida. It was my first teaching gig and I wanted to give the students something to take with them when the season was over. So, I rewrote the words to the “Sunscreen Song” by Baz Luhrmann. (It’s track 4, btw!)

For those of you too young to know this song, please follow this link:

Wear Sunscreen

(Then come back and read the rest) 

I wrote this and printed out copies for each of them to keep at the time. If they still have it now or not, I certainly don’t know, but from then on every group after, if I remembered or if it applied, I gave them the yearly dedicated, slightly updated version to keep and read to inspire their life now matter where the post-season took them.

As I now have an opportunity to share this with more than just my current students, I wish all students and/or staff members share this with their teammates/teams.

We all at Paradigm wish you all great endings to your season filled with fantastic memories, amazing friendships, life long positive influences, and above all - brilliant confidence in yourself.


To the musical melody of “The Sunscreen Song” -


Winter Guard Members Around the World -

Have Confidence...

If I could offer you only one tip for the season, confidence would be it.

The long-term benefits of confidence has been proved by other performers, business people, and parents,
whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience.

I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and strength of your body.

Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and strength of your body until you can‘t move like you use to anymore.

But trust me, in 10 years, you’ll look back at guard shows of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how fast you could run,
how strong you were and how fabulous you really looked.

You are not as lost as you imagine.

Don’t worry about the judges.

Or do worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to toss a flag with your arms tied behind your back.

The real troubles in your season are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind.
It's the kind that blindside you at rotation time on some idle Saturday morning.

Do one toss every day that scares you.


Don’t be reckless with other people’s equipment.

Don’t put up with people who is reckless with yours.


Don’t waste your time on frustration and anger, rather focus that energy on getting better.

Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind.

The show is long and, before the end, find someone and get back in.

Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults.

If you succeed in doing this, you are two steps ahead of many others around you.

Keep your old guard tapes. Throw away ...nothing related to guard.
You’ll want it to show your kids one day.


Don’t feel guilty if you drop in a show; you aren‘t the only one who has ever done it.
Just get back in as fast as you can.

Get plenty of sleep before shows.

Remember these times. You’ll miss them when they’re gone.

I’d say do it for your directors, but I won’t.

I’d say do it for your staff members, but I won’t.

I’d say do it for your captains, but I won’t.

I’d say do it for yourselves.

Do it for all the hours you spent in rehearsal.
Do it for all the times you said. “I’m sorry- I have practice.”
You chose this path willingly because you personally wanted this and it is all for you.

Whatever you do, don’t expect anyone to do the hard work for you.

Guard is like life. It is ROUGH. You will get bumps and bruises and get knocked down,
but you, as the strong and courageous, will get back up and do it again.

Don’t live with half chances. Make every moment count.

Catch your equipment! Catch it any way you can.

 Don’t be afraid of it; you are in control. It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever play with.


Especially where others can see you; maybe they will join in.

Clap with everyone else, even if you don’t understand why.

Give your directors and staff members a hug; thank them for the hours they spend on you.

Get to know your instructors. You will be amazed at what you can learn from them.

Be friends with your teammates. They’re your best link to this season and
the people most likely to stick it out and come back with you next season.

Understand that teammates come and go, but with precious memories you should hold on.

Work hard to bridge the gaps in your show and drill,
because the farther down the season you get,
the more consistent you need to be so your instructors and directors can make it even better.

Accept certain inalienable truths:

The judges are watching.

You will get nervous.

You may drop.

But it is how you recover and the smile on your face that really counts.

Don’t mess too much with your hair, get it done and leave it alone.

Put on show makeup, yes all of it, thank you.

Listen to the advice you receive and pass it on when needed.

Advice is a form of nostalgia. Your instructors and directors have been there many more times than you have and all they want is you to do brilliantly. You may not always agree with them but they do this for you and they want you to do your best.

Always do your best.

When it is time to take the floor and you look up at the audience, heed all this advice…

But if nothing else, trust me on the Confidence.

Dayton Memoirs: Believe Me...You Had To Be There

"Look, if you had one shot, one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted, one moment
Would you capture it, or just let it slip?"

Dayton is a place where, when you least expect it, something will happen that will absolutely take your breath away. Sometimes that breath will be followed by an immediate and visceral response of screams and applause and others will be followed by a simple word, "Wow." There are moments in Dayton that if you weren't there to see it, then it's a loss that can never be regained. WGI in my opinion, does a really good job at trying to bring the activity to those who are unable to experience it live. Between the Fan Network, live streaming, downloads, and old videos, the history of the activity is captured in the best way possible. However, just like the Olympics or the Super Bowl, there is nothing like being there in person. There is an energy that cannot be described. That energy feeds from one person to the next. It's universal and that energy is undeniable.  Those of us who were around in 1980 to see the USA beat the Russians in hockey, knew we were witnessing history. When Michael Phelps won his 8th gold medal in Beijing, we as a nation once again celebrated and cheered, but nothing and I mean nothing, can compare to being there to see it in person. The reason is because of the energy these amazing athletes have the ability to create. The audience feeds off their talent and they in turn feed off the audience. It is perfectly synergistic.

I once went to the World Series and at the time I liked baseball, but I can't say I was a true fan of baseball. I mean let's be honest, baseball isn't the most riveting sport in the world. However, when I sat in the stands watching the Rays play the Phillies, listening to the fans analyze every play, watching kids wave their foam fingers, and listening to the deafening sound of the cowbells every time it came down to the third strike out, I became a baseball fan. A  big one! The players souls and talent were on the field for us to feed off of and feed we did. 

Being in Dayton at the world championships is no different than those other sports. It's our World Series. The same thing happens. Fans analyze the staging, the silks, the equipment phrases, and even the outfits the staff are wearing. There are even people who watch to see if any staff members will trip while making that long hike up the stands.  (Trust me on that one) There are your band parents who believe their program is the best in the world, the friends who only see each other once a year, and let's not forget the die hard pageantry fans who haven't missed a WGI in 30 years. You can't replicate the experience of Dayton no matter how many times you watch the videos. 

So, I picked out 5 of my favorite moments from some great shows at WGI. These are moments and not shows and none of these moments are captured on video well, as you simply can't capture the eloquent synergy between performer and audience very well. The videos also give you the vantage point of the videographer and not yours. The moments were timeless and anyone I spoke to about them could absolutely agree with a definitive, "Oh yes. I was there. It was amazing!" The response was still visceral.

"Let the ceremony begin!"

How do you describe winterguard to someone? How do you start? "It's this dance thing, with staging, and flags and rifles."  "It's like theater, but not."  "You know the marching band and those flags in the back?"

Well this is how I start. In 1986 there was a guard who did a show about an Indian rain dance. The soundtrack was mesmerizing. The performers had transformed an arena of thousands into another culture. They even presented a virgin to the gods of rain. Then, all of a sudden, "the ceremony began." The music changed. It became faster. It became intoxicating. "Din Da Da Din Do Do Din Da Da Din Do." The performers were flailing and dancing. Even to this day, I dare  anyone reading this to try to go into a first position, grande plie and hop around the floor, turn while you are doing it and spin a flag above your head. (Good luck with that!)

They danced for the gods of rain and then...the rain came. Streamers symbolizing rain went from one end of the floor to the other. Dancers danced. They danced so much in celebration that not only did the rain come, but thousands of people rose to their feet to celebrate with them. Oh and by the way...this was preceded with a multiple turn around, with a sabre caught on the hilt in the splits.

The moment was the rain and it might have been 27 years ago, but that energy was infectious and very few guards since then has captured it like the Royal Guardsmen


It was 1993. It was a show with Bugs Bunny as your narrator. The rifle line wore shower caps on their heads. SHOWER CAPS! The setting was in a beauty parlor. It's almost unfathomable that a concept like this would make world finals today...but wait. It wasn't just a concept. It was one of the cleanest shows to date. One of the best rifle lines you will ever see and performers that made you want to go and find this crazy beauty parlor and get a hair cut. You even got to see a drag queen in a wedding dress at the end.

The moment was a girl eating potato chips, crunching them up and throwing them on the floor. Without being "mike'd up" she let out a phrase that I will never forget. "YOU'RE FIIIIIRED 'D'!!"  With the emphasis on the "D." The crowd went crazy. I remember sitting with a friend who is no longer with us scream at the top of his lungs, "I so want to be her!!"

I can't end this section without giving a shout out to a flag toss that spun in perfect synchronicity and oh by the way...had stripes on it. Flawless!!

"I loved dreaming of ballet....BUT MY MOTHER WOULDN'T   LET ME!!"

"They hurt my ears. They hurt my ears. Stop! Stop! STOP!!"

If you were around to see Bishop Kearney in 1995, you were a witness to one of the most entertaining years in Scholastic World. By the time we had gotten to the top of the class we had seen works of art from Northmont presenting, "Somewhere," to Carroll presenting probably the smallest guard in history to ever medal.

Bishop Kearney though, gave us, "Sybil." It was nothing less than fabulous. The show opened with a performer cutting her hair on the floor...LIVE. She cut her hair! That was the first jaw dropping moment. People literally sat in the stands and asked each other if that was real. It just got better from there. The soundtrack. Girls drawing on the floor. Ballet bars. The soundtrack!! My God! This was a soundtrack that people listened to afterwards just to listen to it. It was intense and enthralling. As an audience member you didn't dare look away as you would surely miss something.

The best part of this guard was something that is very close to my heart. They were all female. Young women who were strong and powerful performers that captivated thousands. You don't see that much anymore. These women were unforgettable and if for only 5 minutes...ruled their universe.

The moment however, came at the end. A girl out of nowhere jumped through what looked like a plate glass window. Forgive me for the language, but my visceral reaction was literally, "Holy Shit! Is that glass!!" It obviously wasn't glass, but you bet the conversations at headquarters that night was how that really happened.

I will never forget them and will never forget these words, "Come back to one Sybil just one. Forget about Marcia." 

"Gone is the Dark Cloud..."

McGavock 1995. My alma mater. I hadn't seen them all year and I had heard through the grapevine they were something to see. We didn't have the fan network and moments like this makes me glad we didn't. I had heard they were doing, "I Can See Clearly Now,"  by Holly Cole. I thought, "That's it? Everyone is doing that." Well...that was enough. In 1995, "I Can See Clearly Now," was the Adele of the day. We had heard it all year long and McGavock would prove to present the best and most beautiful version of it.

The show was what I like to call the true beauty of the phrase, "Production Value." As the music changed so did the colors. The show was lovely to watch. The performers appeared innocent. The show was a color extravaganza that matched every color change in the music. When we heard, "nothing but blue skies..." blue skies it what we saw. The show was mesmerizing. Good moments, but the colors and the kids internal beauty is what made these moments great.

The moment I remember however, is still one of the loudest crowd responses for one singular toss to date. We all knew the song and as the music rose with the crescendo, so did the crowd. You never saw it coming and to be honest I couldn't figure out why kids just started randomly screaming. Well...I soon found out. When Holly Cole sang, "Gone are the dark clouds...," the drill stopped, the kids prepped, and out of the blue the silks became yellow. The arena became the sun! As John Williams once said about that moment, "How many times have we all played in the back yard releasing a flag while removing the silk? It's so easy, but McGavock made it spectacular." The crowd rose to their feet and in just a two second moment the energy was palpable...everyone in an arena screamed all at once. It was the same roar you hear when the random football player catches the interception and runs for the touchdown. It...was...amazing!

I was proud to be an alumnus that night.

"Your Candle burned out long before your legend ever did."

This was the moment. This was the show. It was 1991 and if you were there to see it, you will never forget it. The show started with a brief note of Elton John's, "Candle In The Wind." You got a glimpse of Marilyn. Over the next two minutes you watched a show in total silence. TOTAL SILENCE...FOR OVER TWO MINUTES. Rifles and flags, spinning and moving in different vignettes and in perfect synchronicity. With the release of a final flag toss, the music begins. You were transformed to the elegance of Marilyn and the most fitting tribute I've ever seen to an American icon. It was beautiful. The performers...none of them from her generation and another guard filled with only beautiful young women, executed a life of an amazing woman with eloquence and style.

The moment came at the very end. This moment to this day is still one of the most iconic moments in WGI history. Through an entire show we watched a colorguard pay homage to a woman that belonged to all of us. In the back right corner of the floor was a silhouette of Marilyn in her most famous and historical moment. The skirt. At the very end of the show, the performers danced with pictures of her and laid a white sheer piece of fabric over her face painted on the floor. It was as if we were saying goodbye to her all over again. From the right corner and from behind the back of the silhouette, Marilyn walks up, matches the silhouette and we watched her skirt fly. There were no words to describe it. Some people cried. Some people screamed. Everyone however, was moved.

Many years later...sometime around 2005 and in Dayton, the Paradigm staff had just gotten finished with rehearsal. It was late and we were looking for a place to eat and drink. We found a random bar that was about to close. We ordered our drinks from the bartender who asked us if we were in town for WGI. (This is actually a normal question during the week of the world championships. The people who live in Dayton know when the circus is in town.) We said yes and one of our staff members asked how the bartender knew of WGI. She simply said, "I was Marilyn." A group of middle aged pageantry queens stood breathless once again and in pure pageantry form...we all screamed. She was a star to us. This bartender who had her moment 15 years before, once again left a group of people breathless.

I would like to close with this. When someone asks you why you do what you do and why you spend your vacation time in a town that is a virtual hole inside the Midwest, you tell them it's because every once in a while a young person from a town you have never heard of, will make you remember what living is all about. Those kids will create moments that are unforgettable. They will never forget them and we will always remember them for it. For that why I never miss WGI, because you just simply had to be there

Monday, April 1, 2013

Dayton Memoirs: A 3 Part Series

"It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The what makes it great."

One Sunday morning many years ago in Dayton, Ohio, a group of friends sat around a table in Denny's looking tired and a little haggard from a week of too much stress, too little sleep, and too much laughter. As the group sat in silence trying to recover over their pancakes, a voice was heard asking one question, "So, how was everyone's WGI?" That voice was Ron Comfort and as the friends answered one by one, what was noticed was that everyone's experience was very different. They were unique and personal. Everyone's answers were filled with emotion and the names of people that created what many of us call, "The Dayton Experience."  After we got done sharing our tales of WGI, Ron made a statement that I will never forget. He said, "Don't you find it interesting that every year we all come to Dayton together, but not one of us leaves ever having had the same experience." That statement stayed with me forever, because it's probably the only way you can describe Dayton in all of its craziness and absurdity.

There are many commonalities in Dayton. We must all admit that no matter how many times we have seen the arena, that there's something truly special about seeing it for the first time of the weekend and something sad in saying goodbye to it on Saturday night. Dayton is not exactly a "vacation destination," and when you tell people you are spending your hard earned vacation time in Dayton, Ohio they truly look at you and say, "Ummm...really? Why?" Why indeed! It's because of the moments. It's because it's our playground and that playground is irreplaceable. It's like being down the rabbit hole with Alice and exploring a world filled with adventure and wise sages guiding you to your next destination. In Dayton, we all hear it at least once and we may be the people to say it, "After this weekend I have to start focusing on real life again." Our lives are spent in a season called winter and spring doesn't arrive until we wake up on Sunday morning packing our bags to go home.

Dayton is filled with moments that intersect with other moments, that culminates in an arena on Saturday night and ends in a place called, "The Marriott." The people and the guards make up an experience that you literally can't describe to people outside the activity. It doesn't matter if you have a guard competing, if you are there to judge or you are just there to soak in a lifetime of memories from friends you knew years ago. Everyone leaves Dayton with the spherical sense of what it is like to be truly human and truly alive.

When I think of Dayton I can't help but drift into an amalgam of moments that make up words that need no explanation. Those are the words of Dayton...the whispers of decades gone by. Some of those words are common and some of those words are from people we will never hear from again, like "Ernie Zimney." It was something special to hear, "Is the guard ready," in his monotone and looming voice. We will never again hear the phrase, "Are the judges ready?" There have been so few moments in life that compares to standing on the Dayton floor as a performer and hearing those words; knowing that this is it. It all comes down to this moment. As an instructor, hearing Ernie ask if the judges were ready sent chills down your spine. You couldn't help but take a deep breath and say a small prayer to the pageantry gods to please let them do a good show.

There are also words that are timeless and so iconic that just hearing them brings back unique and special memories such as...Tunnel...Headquarters...Warm-Up...and 50/50 Raffle, by a guy wearing a very silly hat, convincing you to buy an arms length worth of raffle tickets. (I swear I'm going to win this year. Just watch!) These words bring back memories for some and have yet to be discovered by the youth who are about to experience it for the first time next week.

Dayton is special and it can't be replicated on the Fan Network or through viewing pictures on Facebook. They can bring you closer, but it's not like being there in person, because you can't replicate  the energy of seeing a friend you haven't seen in 10 years or seeing that special catch from a toss that left an arena of thousands breathless.

When thinking about this post I asked a number of people throughout the season about their favorite moments in Dayton. Many of them spoke of great shows. Others talked about icons who "held court," outside the elevator of the Marriott. Others gave me stories that I don't dare repeat in an open forum. Over the next 3 posts I hope to create the right combination that captures what Dayton means to all of us. The guards. The people. The energy. The memories.