As I approach my 30th year in the activity, I can say that who I was then vs. who I am now is not just a remarkable transformation, but a gift that I'm able to look back on that person and see just how far I have come. I can look at entire winterguard seasons where I functioned in a complete state of misery, because I chose to surround myself with people who were less than ethical, less than pleasant, and completely miserable in their own existence. I'm thankful that I'm strong enough and wise enough now to not let those types of people infect me with their own self loathing. The pageantry arts is not unlike other communities that are competitive in nature. We have our share of cattiness. We have people who absolutely believe that if they don't receive a "special score" at a show, that they were "screwed" and it's clearly not their fault, but someone else's. We have people whose very self esteem is derived from the activity and when that esteem is threatened in any way, they create chaos for anyone in their wake. This all comes with competition. You can find it in every sport and all throughout the arts.
Instead of focusing on those people however, I want to write about the people who are the opposite of them. I want to talk about most of the people in the activity. About a year ago, I decided that I was tired of negativity. Literally, sick and tired of it! I took everyone on Facebook who frequently posts negatively about others or events and put them in a special list on the left called, "Negative People." About once a week I check in on those people to see if they are still negative and hateful. Very few people once they reach that list make it off the list. Making that list helped me create a news feed that had an overall positive tone to it. This experiment of mine started yielding some interesting results. I found that when I closed the door to negativity, positive people just walked through a door that opened itself up to me. I started to realize that there are people in this world who are genuinely happy. They aren't faking it. They exude an energy about them that makes you want to read their Facebook posts and seek them out when you are in their vicinity. These people might not be perfect and have had their share of bad days, but they have a sense about them that makes people want to be in their presence. Most of these people don't have closets of medals or make a ton of money. I have to believe though, because of their approach and the way they see life, that they derive so much more pleasure out of their piece of the activity and especially out of their life. Before I wrote this post I made a list of people whom I highly admire, because of their attitudes and the approach they take when teaching others. The traits listed below is the embodiment of what they have taught me and what they bring to the world.
Elizabeth Bannon is a person that many might not know out of our little colorguard world of central Florida. She was a girl I had the pleasure of teaching a long time ago when she was in high school. We were a guard at a little christian school and I was only there for one year with her. To be honest, I barely remember teaching her. I've gotten to know Elizabeth more as an instructor and a teacher. She taught for years at the school she marched at. She had a deep love for her school and the kids in her guard. She valued her past. She thanked me on more than one occasion for what I taught her. Every week she posts on Facebook something positive about her kids, her school, or the show they attended. She is always proud of her kids and sees each day as a new opportunity to teach life skills to the children of our future. Elizabeth is grateful of the simple life she leads and she makes sure the people around her are the recipients of the expression of that gratitude. Her guard may not be the next world class national medalist, but her guard always exhibits class and a love for performing and that can only come from having an instructor with so much gratitude for others.
2. Sense of Humor
My friend Richard Horton is a nut. He defies every level of sanity that can be discussed in any psychological journal ever written. Richard is one of those rare individuals that when you know you will be around him, you pack an extra pair of underwear because it is certain you will pee on yourself from laughing. More than once I have found myself laughing out loud just thinking about some stunt he has pulled. Richard was another person I taught. When I taught Richard he was a young, arrogant boy struggling with his own demons. He was hard to teach. Many years ago Richard left the activity to work through those demons. When he returned, he was a man who had a gift for seeing the joy in all situations. He could turn a bad rehearsal and a bad score into a comedy routine on a moments notice. He never takes himself seriously and he sees the activity as a place for him to give back to others, because others gave back to him. Richard is also a brilliant choreographer and if you ever have the chance to spend a day with him I highly recommend it...but bring your extra pair of underwear.
3. Regards Problems as Challenges
There are people in this activity that don't seem to be phased by anything. ANYTHING! In fact you have to wonder if they took a handful of xanax before every show. My friend Joe Cataneo is one of those people. I had the pleasure of teaching with Joe for one season and it wasn't a season filled with rainbows and butterflies. When the stress of March and low scores took its toll, Joe knew how to start anew and keep a team in tact. The kids were always his first priority. Everything to him was a new experience to explore. I don't see Joe much anymore, but when I do he's still like that. He's calm, level headed, and always sees around him an opportunity to learn. At headquarters in Dayton, you can barely get him alone. Everyone wants to talk to Joe.
4. Speaks Well of Others
The ability to speak about people; all people in a gentle manner and a manner fitting of decency is a trait that is very difficult for even the best of us. It's easy to go off the deep end sometimes and loose our way and lower ourselves to the pettiness of the lowest human denominator. It's easy to do in an activity that has seen its share of cattiness. There are people though, who regardless of what goes on behind their closed doors, has shown to rise above adversity in a manner that does no harm to others. They do this in many ways. They are professional...always! They seek to see those around them in their best light, regardless of how others might want to see them. They put themselves on the line to make sure a persons feelings aren't hurt, when others find reasons to tear them down. I have had the pleasure of working on the board with Mike Higbe, who is the President of the FFCC. He is one of the people I'm talking about. I must also add that so is Joe Cataneo, Richard Horton, and Liz Bannon. I add in Mary McWilliams White as well.
There are people that I only see once, maybe twice a year. When I see them, they greet me with a huge smile, which is often followed by a hug. They don't care about the score of my guard or the score of their guard for that matter. When they see me...they smile. When they see others...they smile. They greet those around them with smiles...always. They are warm and welcoming. They rise above the drama of the activity and find pleasure in the people who are with them at that moment and in that time. Stephanie Renell, another student of mine is just that person. Doesn't matter when or where. She greets me always with her warm smile and booming, friendly voice. She's also a brilliant tech. She's not the only one. Jim Taylor is another person. I didn't see him at all last year and when I saw him in Dayton he hugged me so hard he knocked the wind out of me. I find that this trait and this trait alone is one of the reasons I stay in this insane activity of ours. I have been honored to judge all over the country and in every circuit and in every state, there are people who always are smiling and always ready to welcome you home. John Meyers of the FFCC is one. Nola Jones, Cheryl Myers, and Heather Rothman. Michael Gray as well.
6. Don't sweat the small stuff
Now isn't this something we should all learn to master?? There have been hundred of books written over this one concept. So why is it so hard! At the end of the day, it's just pageantry. Yes, our hearts and souls are poured into these shows; as well as our money, time, and reputations. At the end of the day though...it's just pageantry. I always feel sorry for people in Dayton who are so distraught by scores, that they give up that amazing opportunity to socialize with some of the finest people in the world. They pout and stay by themselves. On my death bed, I'm fairly certain I'm not going to lay there saying, "Oh my God! If I had only scored 90 in Dayton that year we did the Adele show, then my entire life would be different! Lord take me now!!" That just doesn't happen. So why do we stress over things that we either can't control or things that shouldn't matter? The people in the activity who seem to understand this the best are the people that go day to day and season to season knowing that it's the joy of the moment and the people that make that moment who are truly happy. The person that comes to mind is Kurt Jull. What an amazing attitude. He told me this year in Dayton that he had never had a guard that got a medal at WGI. How is that possible? Kurt Jull has been a part of teams that created some of the most amazing moments in Dayton history. Remember the peacocks?? It's not the medals, though. He knows it. He knows that it's the opportunity we give the kids and the audience that matters. It's his passion and creativity that he wraps into a show and not his ego.
7. Nurture social relationships
It's the reason we are here. Friendship is not just the driving force behind the activity, but it's the driving force behind humanity. Making friends and nurturing those relationships is what life is all about. I am dumbfounded by people that say they can't trust others and they would rather keep their enemies closer than their friends. No thank you. That mentality doesn't work for me. If I had to pick one reason I've stayed around as long as I have, would be because of the friendships. Friends from all over the country. People who have been there with a kind word and gentle heart to listen. They want nothing in return, except the same from me. I could write for days about the people I've met who I now call friends, but it's Paradigm. Paradigm is the reason I exist in this activity. Through laughter and tears we have always been there for each other. Ron Comfort, Mike Marcantano, Rodney Fuller, Chris Flynn, Joe Flynn, Ben Adams, Mike Palau and a host of other staff, alumni, and supporters make up this wonderful and quirky organization.The philosophy of family and friendship is a reason to exist and it has given me smiles on days when there was nothing to smile about.
8. Give back to the activity that has given so much to you
We must give back. The pageantry arts has given all of us so much to be thankful for. It has given us the gift of passion and through that passion we have been able to cultivate friendships, creativity, the range of emotions that all humans should explore, laughter, love, the ability to test our own capabilities, and the exploration of our minds in ways "normal" people can't imagine. We MUST give back. You can do this in so many ways. Consult for a young or struggling group for free. Sit on a board. Sponsor a child's season. Buy an instrument. Go to a show and buy concessions. Buy a candy bar from a kid selling door to door. There are so many people in this activity that do this. You know who comes to mind is the great people of the Marching Roundtable. They set out to bring information to the activity in a way that has never been done before. The conversations are frank, honest, and seek to really reach out to a community of instructors to give them guidance when many others haven't. They don't do this to be rich. They do it because they care. They genuinely care about the activity and want to leave it better than they found it.
There is another group that never gets credit for giving back that I must give a shout out to. It's the judging community. What amazing people! Say what you will, but most of them go to the shows hoping for the opportunity to offer words of wisdom and support. I am honored to call many of them my friends. I've seen them fret over scores they have given, because they wish they could have gone back an added just one more tenth. I've seen them sit in airports over night and judge all day with no sleep. I've seen the pride on their faces at championships when the guard they have judged all season finally gets it.
This is the most important. If you would have asked me 5 years ago what I thought was the most important aspect to happiness and specifically our happiness in the pageantry arts, it would be spirituality. This is not religion, but the belief that there is a force out there that brought us together and is giving us these moments to grow our souls. Last year, I taught at a Christian school for marching band season. Teaching there was unexpected and something that I did just to make a little extra cash for Christmas. Throughout the season, I fell in love with the kids in a way that I never had before. These kids were very young and many were in middle school. The band could fit into my living room and they practiced half of what their competitors did. I didn't have the highest of competitive aspirations for them. There was something about them, though. I'm not religious, but I respect their beliefs and traditions. One night at practice the band director stopped practice and told everyone to look at the sunset. He said that God brought us all together to revel in that moment. I never saw a sunset like that in my lifetime. While looking at that sunset with about 45 kids, I felt nothing but utter peace. It was the definition of mindfulness. At one point that season we had gone to a competition. I couldn't stay until the end and told the guard captain to text me with the results. They won. Completely and unexpectedly they won the show. In her text message she made one simple statement that said, "Shelba we won! Isn't God amazing. We all did it together!" Now, whether it was God or the mysteries of the universe, we'll never know. What I do know is that in that one text, I saw a 16 year old who showed no ego and no selfishness. She attributed her success and the success of the band to her higher power. I couldn't deny that and I would never forget it.
So what about me? Where do I stand on the scale of happiness? What makes me see each day as one of wonder and pleasure, regardless what the universe throws at me? I wish I could say that I embody every trait listed here, but I don't. I'm still growing as I'm far from the peak of happiness. I've learned though, that each day I can walk into a gym or on a football field with young people as an opportunity to help shape the future. I exercise everyday. I take care of my body so it will fuel my mind. I meditate. Mostly though, I'm working on living in the moment. I'm doing so much better at getting to know the young people I teach and the staff I teach with. I don't think about the end of the season, but the moment of the season I'm in and valuing that moment. I see people around me and really listen to them and hope I can offer a shoulder of support. In every person we encounter we can choose to find the negative or the positive. We can take their one bad day and treat it as a lifetime flaw. I choose the other path. I choose the path of seeing the good in everyone.
My goal is to leave the activity better than I found it and I believe that the people listed here are doing just that.
Thank you for reading.