Sunday, April 17, 2016

Don't Believe Your Own Press...Paradigm's Story

During my career in non profit and about a decade ago, I worked at one of the premier substance abuse treatment companies in the country. It is safe to say, that the company I worked for "owned" the industry in Florida. Working in that environment made it easy to forget how hard we had to work to keep the doors open and to keep our name in the public eye. Every three months, the CEO would gather all of the managers together for a leadership meeting and she always started with this phrase, "Don't believe your own press, for if you do, you will surely fall."  Companies all over the world use that phrase as a reminder that at any time, you can fail by the simple belief that you are unbeatable. In the real world, you often hear of athletes, actors, artists, entrepreneur's and businessmen fall, because somewhere along the line they believed their own press and didn't pay attention to the climate around them. Color guards are no different.

How many guards have we all seen come and go and somewhere in the process of many of those programs, there is probably a story where the staff didn't pay as close attention to the money, the membership, climate, or process as closely as they should have. Paradigm is no different and our story is one of caution and the climb back. It's one every person can probably relate to or at the very least learn from.

In 2005, Paradigm reached the height of competition as a program by placing 7th in World Class at the WGI World Championships by displaying one of the hardest and to that point one of the most standard setting flag features ever. By completing the entire phrase with our feet and in the horizontal position, it was by standards of the time a true test of the world class sheet. In the midst of the season and looking back, it was very clear that the staff hung our hat on that moment and even the program. For us, it was truly a Cinderella season, but in the midst of it all we started to believe our own press and lost who we were as a program. We believed that we had arrived and with that feeling comes arrogance. Below are just some of the mistakes we made.
  • We didn't take the pulse of the emotions and sensitivities of the performers in our quest to push the envelope
  • We believed that because we were a two time World finalist, kids from around Florida would just flock to us
  • We didn't assess if the program was moving too fast for the financial structure
  • We didn't assess the veteran status of the performers and who would come back and who wouldn't simply based on time in the program and time to move on
  • We didn't assess the stress level of the staff
  • We didn't assess our competitors competitive growth and proximity to us
  • We didn't assess the national climate
These are just a few things we didn't assess. How do you build upon one of the best moments you've ever had? We didn't ask that question. If I remember correctly, we didn't ask a lot of questions. We moved into the next season with a simple assumption that everything would just work. We believed our own press and it backfired on us. It took us two more seasons to realize that success is fleeting and if you don't continue to spend the majority of your time focusing on the administrative side you will eventually fall. By 2007, the loss of a significant amount of the membership, and low turn out at auditions resulted in the decision that 2007, would be our last season as a program. 

The staff scattered and it took us five years to realize that we needed to be back together, but in 2012, we still didn't do it right. Once again, we believed in our own press, no matter how old that press was. In today's world of social media, texting, and the internet, it's important to realize that five years ago is a lifetime and five minutes ago is all that really matters. 

That was lesson number one.

Social Media has changed the way we recruit, communicate, and even train color guards. It is probably without a doubt the most significant shift in the way the color guard world works. Every thing you say and do is there for the world to see.

Lesson number two

The second mistake we made was that we wanted to rebrand ourselves, but in the branding process we threw out what worked and kept what didn't. We completely did it backwards. The one thing that has always worked for Paradigm, no matter whether or not we have had a good or bad season is that the staff is truly one. We act as one and function as one. We are never off message as an organization. The trust is strong. We thought that by shifting the staff around that we could rebrand, but still be Paradigm. Wrong. When we did that we lost the soul of the program.

Keep what works and know what doesn't work. Take ego out of the equation.

Lesson number three

After a disastrous 2012 season, we attempted 2013 and realized that there was no way we could come back out without a plan. After a disappointing audition and difficulty securing the right staff, we made the decision for the second time in our history to fold the program, but this time, would only be temporary. We would spend the 2013 season planning. In December of 2012, what would have been a design camp, we met as a staff and brought in a few outside opinions and spent two days hammering out a strategic plan that would expire in April 2016. At the end of 2016, our goal was to walk on the floor in A finals. I can only speak for myself, but at times my ego got in the way as how do you go from World Finals and a standard setting, standing ovation moment, to making a three year plan to make finals in Independent A class? I struggled internally with that.

Let you ego go if you want to save the program. It's about the program...not about you.

Lesson number four

You have to figure out how to re-brand and rebuild without living in the past, but keeping the spirit of the tradition alive. 

In the two days of strategic planning, there was much debating, arguing, and at times some storming out of the room. We had to agree to drop blame and leave the past behind. This was hard, because it was the time that we had to agree that yes we screwed up and yes we should have paid more attention to the dynamics of the program, but there was no one person that could be pointed to that owned that blame. This was when we discovered that we truly were friends, that everyone owned a stake in the program and doing that allowed us to put Paradigm first.

Lesson number five

When you strategic plan, it's crucial that all voices are heard. Opinions matter and dreaming big is a necessary step. Strategic planning is a concept of starting big and ending with realistic short term and long term goals. It takes commitment by all involved. We were honest with each other and all agreed to specific tasks and were held accountable for those tasks. 

Listen to each other no matter how crazy the idea's are and brainstorm as a group.

Lesson number six

When we started the planning session everyone was given an assignment. "Write down the companies you feel have the qualities you want to see in a color guard." There was no wrong answer. Starbucks, Target, Fed Ex, the Rays Foundation were all mentioned. Comments such as, "great customer service" and "efficient" were just a couple of reasons those companies were mentioned. The question was also asked in reverse. "Who do you not want to mirror?" We discussed other guards and drum corps that we respected and didn't respect as organizations. We made a list of qualities that we wanted and did not want as an organization.

Family, financially viable, unique, community, open door policy, and advocates were words frequently used.

Don't reinvent the wheel. Learn from others and take the most necessary qualities you want to see in your organization.

Lesson number seven

Setting goals was the crucial step. Once we decided who we wanted to be, we needed to decide what type of competitive organization we wanted to be. We knew a couple of things. We would have to be patient. There was no rushing to get back to World and we were willing to take as long as needed to get the right kids, staff, and financial backing into place. Nothing was going to replace the foundation that the kids come first and our goal has always been to be a place where any performer can feel at home. Patience allowed us to look at the financial picture with open eyes and invited new ideas from other creative and business outlets. 

Be patient and build your foundation. The finances, staff, and performers need to grow as one entity and not separate aspects of the program.

Lesson number eight

In the process of strategic planning we did what is called asset mapping. We made a list of every color guard within driving distance. We looked at their staff's. We looked at where the kids were gravitating to and why. This was a long process, but helped us identify where we should be located and how we should recruit. It taught us to not waste time recruiting from certain area's and helped us reach out the the right staff members. It helped us find our niche' area. This then helped us look for rehearsal facilities and find a community to "own." One of the most crucial pieces of Paradigm is that we believe that a color guard, band, or drum corps should find a community to not just exist in, but to be a part of. Community is what started this entire activity to begin with and we made a goal as a group that we would return our program to the roots of the activity.

Look at your community. Do they even want you there? How can you work with the community to gain their support? 

Lesson number nine

Mentor and succession plan. This was the next step. There was no way that Paradigm would exist with the current staff structure. We realized that it was time for the older staff to serve as mentor and consultant and the younger staff needed the opportunity to step up to design, tech, and administrate. So that's what we did. We created a succession plan. The goal was to turn the program over to the right young people and make it theirs. We vetted staff carefully for not just skill, but to make sure their philosophy fit our philosophy. Most of the current staff have performed in the program before, but not all. Outside experiences are crucial. Moving staff positions around was also crucial to this plan. We had to find where the best fit was for all involved.

Once you reach the top, it's important to send the elevator back down. Mentor those invested in your program and give them the chance to be successful under their name...not yours.

Lesson number ten....MONEY

Money was not going to be left to chance. In no way, under any circumstances were we going to function in the red. We would fold, before go broke. We also knew we would not exploit the performers for dues. Keeping the dues manageable, while staying competitive was our biggest goal. We knew that making money outside traditional fundraising means was a necessary component to keeping Paradigm afloat and making money just to survive was not an option. So we laid out every idea we could think of to raise our public profile, write grants, and raise money in the non traditional sense. We worked it like a business first and color guard second. Let me repeat that.

We function as a business first and color guard second. It's the only way to survive in the long term and everyone on staff is required to understand that.

In the end, our taking the 2013 season off  to assess the climate and write a strategic plan, was the best thing we ever did. That one weekend in December 2012, set us up for walking on the finals floor in Dayton in 2016. The current strategic plan has expired and it's time for another one. We will follow the same structure and invite outside voices to the table. All opinions will matter. It was a long road back to the finals floor, but the biggest lesson we learned is that we will never again...believe our own press. We will assess and assess and assess. We as staff members ask the kids to always look at their rehearsals and shows to assess their performance and our philosophy is that we as the adults should also as well. See you on the floor in 2017. Who knows where the next strategic plan will take us??

Friday, April 15, 2016

What I Have Learned About the A Class Sheet by Spending Three Years Teaching Independent A Class

I have no clue. Looking for answers along with the rest of the A class community, most judges, administrators, and performers. If you have any, please contact me at

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Greatest Love

Some things change, they never stay the same. Life goes on and as the old adage states and many who come of age headed to the downward slope of their lives; you can never go home again.

Dayton not the city, but what we call WGI is the epitome of the cliché’ of just about every life quote, motivational poster, and famous poet that ever spoke of the struggle of life. The city of Dayton has gone through many transformations and as much as things change, some things have stayed the same. For instance, the roads in Dayton have been under construction for well…ever. What are they doing? The Hara Arena for example, where many of us practice and many of us premiered our first shows back in the 90’s is still cold as ice as it’s well…an ice rink. Edwin C. Moses Blvd is still there and that exit is a big deal for those of us driving down from the airport on our first day in Dayton. For those coming from the south, it’s the witnessing of the Cincinnati skyline for the first time coming over the bridge. The planes to Dayton are filled with kids in guard jackets. That will never change. There is Needmore Road, South Patterson Blvd. and the Denny’s. The Denny’s? Yes the Denny’s. It’s the hell hole food many of us have eaten after hungover from Saturday night. I was shocked to see that they closed it. Now it’s just a memory of once was. That piece of crap, bad service Denny’s was one of our hangouts. The Marriot. Next year at this time it will look completely different. Al is still there. Al. He is the bartender that has worked headquarters for a decade. He is just as much a part of the WGI experience as the guards themselves. Every year Al tells me that I’ve added wrinkles around my eyes or I look haggard. I love Al. He tells it like it is. He makes me laugh and knows my drink without pause. He’s the consummate bartender.

It always rains in Dayton. Always. It always seems to rain in Dayton at the most inconvenient time for the guards. This year is snowed. We’ve seen snow, but this was new. We were covered in it. I slid on ice driving to A finals at the Nutter Center. I was like, “Damn…I certainly want to live to see finals.”

Things change and they can never stay the same. There’s no use in holding on. Life is like that. Those of us who are old are desperate for the past and those who are young don’t even grasp it. They just want to move forward.

I guess this is what brings me to the point of this post. It’s important that life moves forward and we as an activity keep evolving and growing and changing, but this year there was something missing and many of us old timers’ seemed to feel it. We couldn’t put our finger on it, but throughout many conversations in many different arenas, many different people and many different cocktails; I’m going to try to pinpoint it.

We feel…we the people…we some of the people maybe…feel that tradition has gotten lost in the income generating empire WGI has become. No one and I mean no one wants to go back to a time when only 100 guards came to Dayton. We love seeing a sold out crowd on Saturday night, but we want some of the aspects to never get lost in the rush for money, marketing, and advertising.

I’ll start with this. Lynn Lindstrom. The First Lady of WGI. Her picture should have been hanging in every arena, in every city. Her tribute should have reached to Cincinnati to Millett Hall and the Marriot. Wouldn’t it be nice to see tributes to guards of the past in the form of pictures or old clips, because we are all here today, because Anthron did something really weird back in the 80’s or Alliance came out of the tunnel with tents and a gypsy show. We are here, because many of us were forced to age out and teach at the age of 22. We are here today, because Ernie announced the guards and his voice was truly something special for those of us striving to reach finals. We are here today, because people sat in board rooms, bars, and circuit shows trying to find new ways to give the best experience to kids. There is no single person that owns the activity. We all do. We feel that…no not we…I’ll just say I, because I don’t believe in speaking for others. I feel, that we are losing our traditions and that they are being swept to the side like some glitter left over after a New Year’s Eve party in the race for whatever gains income.  

I felt awful for the A class guards. They pay their dues, work just as hard and populate the entire activity at the local and national level, yet this year it just wasn’t the same. Part of the tradition is the tunnel. Kids for years have worked just for the privilege of walking down that tunnel. Some years you make it and some years you don’t, but trying to get your props down the tunnel without losing control of them is something everyone should experience at least once. That little side room is another tradition. What it looks like though, is that the World Class now owns the arena and just happens to give it up on Sunday morning, because they are tired. It wasn’t lost on many of us that Independent World went on at night in the arena every day of competition. It wasn’t lost on most of us when the predictability of few people showing up for A finals. That was a shock…not. Did the kids have a good time? Of course they did. However, Friday night use to be theirs. We use to even give them Triple Finals on Saturday and the World class went on Sunday. Now both Open and A go on back to back Saturday morning. That makes me sad. I overheard a WGI staff member at Nutter complaining that they weren’t working the arena. See, even the contest staff would rather be at the arena.  That actually made me cry, because it sounded as if we were second class and for many of us it’s the contest staff’s faces from our local circuits that makes us feel comfortable at WGI. That’s a me thing I guess. There is nothing more special than seeing that kid who walks on the floor at A finals for their very first WGI. Nothing! I also must say that there isn’t anything more special than watching a young instructor get to experience it as well. I wonder though, if we are losing it all in the quest for more.

Things change I guess. Being in Dayton for A and Open is hard. It’s hard to plan for and it’s a constant level of stress involving much travel, to multiple cities, at absurd wake up calls. We do it though, because we want our kids to experience Dayton. We…no I…understand that the activity has grown and we most likely have grown out of Dayton, but I know it has to grow. I know it can’t be like it used to be. I mean this year there were police monitoring the hallways at the arena. Not security. Police. One of them yelled at a kid in the hallway for just standing….and he yelled. It’s just not the same when we need police for crowd control. I don’t think I liked that, even if the insurance company did require it.

I don’t profess to this day understand why the activity has become a classical music, piano concerto, wine and cheese toss fest. It has though. I made a joke during finals and said, “Oh my God could someone come out and just do Beyonce’?” When I got in the car to come to the airport on Sunday, Beyonce’ was on the radio. I laughed. So o.k. Piano concerto’s it is. When they changed the age out to no age out many years ago, many of us complained. Many complain to this day, but there is no denying the athleticism, talent, and skill that comes from 30 year old adults who have honed their skills over a lifetime. I still like watching the kids, though. The real kids. It makes me happy. It’s my thing, I guess.

I remember when the judges could hang out at headquarters and weren’t sequestered. I get it. It’s the world championships. I can still miss it, though. Those judges are our friends, colleagues, and sometimes family. We never get to see them anymore and many of them are even afraid to speak to us. I feel that we’ve created a divide and somewhere along the line, WGI has lost the voice of the people, the ones who don’t sit on the board made up of World Class guards and those of us that don’t earn shares at the end of the season after all the dollars are counted. There is an overwhelming feeling of us vs. them…people are just afraid to speak it out loud. Someone used the phrase this weekend that the 1% now truly owns the activity as we watch percussion commercials between shows. We have to make money to grow. We all understand that. It’s how we are sustained. However, I do have to ask this. Doesn’t  A Class and Open Class sustain us at some level? I mean there’s only about 50 or so World guards. Let’s be honest here. I’m no mathematician, but somehow the math doesn’t work. I guess the advertising dollars are so great it really doesn’t matter. I don’t know. I do know regardless of the math, that the A class pays into the system at a much higher rate both locally and nationally. There is just simply more of them. Everyone pays their entry fee’s. There were 200 A Cl;ass Guards at WGI this year out of a total of 350 or so guards. ( I think I counted 346) So what is that…58% of the entire world championships? O,pen Class comprises 28%, so total the Open and A teams and you get roughly 86% of the World Championships and the argument is that it’s the World Class that sells out the arena. No one debates that, but it doesn’t change the percentages, because if even half of THAT 86%, chose not to attend, then the tide would most certainly turn.

When WGI announced the movement of A class to the Nutter Center on Saturday morning many people complained. I advocate for a living and in advocacy 101, you always learn to look at who is speaking and what interests they hold. You find the conflicts of interests and in that particular case, there were many. How many guards should go into finals? I don’t know. I guess 25 and 20 is a good number. It makes sense. It does. How do you make it happen with 350 guards? I have no idea. I know that using five facilities must be a logistical and expensive nightmare. I do think though, it was a rushed decision that didn’t really look at the impact it had on the crowds and the general feeling of “Well, that sucks. We no longer as an activity have an option to see all the finals performances if we so choose.” We all suck it up though, and move on. A decade from now no one will remember that A Class kids ever marched in the arena and we were able to choose to see all of the finals shows.

So here we are. Things have changed again. Just like television and technology. We grow and losteTriple Finals. We grow and lose the ageout tradition of leaving gloves on the floor. We grow and we lose the ability to make and watch video’s for years to come. We grow and many kids lose the arena. We may or may not get to see both finals ever again and that makes me sad, because many of us over the years have really tried to at least catch some of each of finals. That my friend is not a direction I’m willing to sit back and let happen.  In my vested interested in A class, it’s my job to advocate for a better system. I heard a lot of bitching this weekend. A lot! I heard a quote at the Nutter Center that just made me sad.

 “Well aren’t we the welfare children of WGI. Where is our block of cheese?”

Wow. Just wow. The benefit I have of being just a person in the stands and not sequestered or have special rooms at headquarters or attend private board meetings and have the cell number of important people, is that I get to listen and watch. I have the privilege as a writer of having people randomly talking to me. I watch and there is a feeling of us vs. them.  I don't get to sit like a queen on top of the arena watching finals. It is undeniable and as in all real change, at some point we will lose who we are and become who we will be. Let’s be careful though, because we don’t want to go down the path of major nonprofits, where we find out that the mission got lost in the quest for money…Red Cross, Salvation Army, Susan G. Coman, Untied Way. Their pocketbooks were hit hard from donations when the stories broke. 

And no. It wasn’t the same being at Nutter over the arena. It just wasn’t. They tried to sell that to us, but I know cow patties when I step in them. You know what would be amazing? Put World Class in the intimate environment of Nutter for Semi’s and I still bet the show would be packed as Semi’s would allow people to see the choreography up close and Saturday we could absorb the ambiance of the arena and A Class could have Friday night back. A and Open could even take turns on Friday nights. Just a thought. World could go back to Sunday's. The options are limitless if we try hard enough. If nothing else, for the love of God, let's figure out a way to get each finals a suitable audience for a world finalist.

My hope, because I always end with a hope. My hope is that those that feel disenfranchised will speak up. You know the best way to do it? With your dollars. Change occurs when you hit the pocketbooks of people in charge. It’s how we achieved social change in the civil rights movement and the gay rights movement. If you want change, you have to stop bitching and do something about it. You can’t let fear of debate or apathy stop you. Someone asked me this weekend if I was afraid my guard would be impacted by speaking out? I was like…WHAT! No of course not. One…I trust the judges. Two…if that ever happens I’m done. This is why I write. I want to keep tradition alive, dialog moving, and a future that involves all the voices.

I love winter guard. I love the people. I love my friends. I love my lifelong friends. I love headquarters. I love the arena. I love the shows. I love to know that I was around when there were Sunday shows and Triple finals. I love having the history. I love Al at the bar. I love Needmore Road that we make fun of every year. I love the tailgating at World Finals. I love the hugs in the halls. I love the standing ovations (all be it they are becoming less and less). I love the parties. I love the debates on the direction of World Class. I love that I hate that I’m tired for a week after WGI. I love the memories that carry me in the hard days of real life.  I love seeing my friend’s judge, work the shows, and walk on the floor with their guards. I love that there is such a bond between all of us, even when we are sometimes irritated and mad at each other. Mostly though, I love the traditions. Such as the oranges. You must eat a Dayton orange.

When I marched Pride we had a tradition of singing a song. “The Greatest Love of All.” There’s a line in it we must never forget.

“I believe the children are the future teach them well and let them lead the way.”

In the end, this picture below will get lost in a sea of Dayton's and 2016 will be a memory we will barely recall. The big scandal of the A Class NutterGate will be forgotten. All that will be left is a piece of confetti some young A Class performer picked up off the ground and tucked away in their memory box. We have to though, keep striving to make it better and reaching for different avenues of performance. We can't rush big decisions and have keep the mission always in our minds. We must listen to our instincts, lose our ego's, and include all the voices. It's not just about our future, but it's also about our traditions and our past, because without the past, we will lose the spirit. This is for all of us those that own a piece of confetti called the sport of the arts.

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Monday, April 4, 2016

A Difference A Year Makes/ Championships to Championships

When I wrote my final blog post at the end of last season, the 2015 season,  I had no idea how much of a difference the following year would bring me. I think for all of us who are passionately invested in the pageantry arts, we see it as a commitment for life. Whether we performed for only one season, taught just a couple of years, judged once or twice, or for many of us...put both feet in the deep end and jumped face first with a splash of water that rises so high it touches anyone within distance; the reality is that somewhere deep in our soul, we know we are committed for life. 

When I first joined winter guard, it's safe to say I did it under duress. I was a gymnast. Not just some fly by night gymnast either. I was good and national bound. Circumstances arose and my 10 year career as a gymnast ended. At the time I was in the band and had been playing flute for 8 years. To be honest...I thought the guard was a bunch of untalented hacks. I mean...what seriously was this flag thing anyway? Without the musicians, they wouldn't exist. This was the mid 80's and I had no idea winter guard was even a thing. Well one day, I found myself...somehow...marching in the McGavock winter guard. I was a dandelion. Seriously...I was a freaking dandelion. Of course then the rain came and I was an umbrella. It's a long story. Anyway, I personally thought it was kind of silly. All of a sudden though, we went to our first regional and it was the 1987 Pensacola WGI Regional. If you were around back then, you know that the Pensacola Regional might as well have been nationals. State Street, Alliance, Nouveau, Odyssey. Millers Blackhawks. I mean Wow. Seriously wow! What a first regional to attend as a newbie. I was hooked. All it took was one toss by the State Street rifle line to convince me that I didn't know how, but this activity would be a part of me for life and it is....a part of me...for life. It might be the biggest part of me outside of my child. 

I judged two circuit championships this year and I was not just honored, but humbled to even be considered a part of those panels. Yesterday, I attended my third championships to see my own team perform. I almost missed it as my flight from one championships was delayed by three hours. I cried. I sat in the airport up against a wall at the terminal gate in tears as the time on the take off time kept being moved further and further back. It's only in this activity that you would fly to one circuit on Friday night to judge 60 plus guards on Saturday, just to get up at 5:00 a.m. to fly to another circuit the next morning. It's insane. It is totally and undoubtedly insane to do something like this. We do it though. All of us. We spend inordinate amounts of time to give the best experience to the performers as we can. Instructors. judges, board members, volunteers, parents, and contest staff. I mean, there are people behind the scenes that spend hours just to make sure the kids are given the best experience possible. Then there are the instructors. They work for free. They go broke. They cry and laugh with each other, just to experience that final moment at championships. It's my favorite part of the season. Retreat. It's the only time we get to see all the kids in one place, standing together as one. It's special and every season in some circuit somewhere I make sure to watch retreat at championships. I love to see the kids faces as their units are called. I love the medal ceremonies. I love the local circuit championships so much more than the one at nationals, because every kid no matter who they are or what class they are in, is given the chance to stand on the floor and hear their name called. It's truly a special moment. 

This year though, from Championships in 2015 to Championships in 2016, was the difference of night and day. For many of us, Championships is like New Years Eve. When the day is over a year has ended. It's like a countdown to letting go of the old and welcoming the new. In this year, from championships to championships, I lost my dad. I realized that my job and career of 23 years no longer fits me. I tried to move and have basically done just about everything to uproot my life you can possibly imagine. The life I was living no longer fit me. What I found out though, that through it all, I had my color guard community. Some of my closest friends are in this community and they were there all along to support me in my struggles. They have always been there. I realized this year that life changes and sometimes faster than you want. The Universe doesn't wait for you to make decisions. It has a plan for you, that you don't even have an awareness of. I realized that I'm stronger than I ever imagined, but also weaker than I allow myself to be. Once this year, I was judging a guard and they did a show about death. I realized that I couldn't finish the commentary as memories of my dad popped in my head. The person judging next to me just said, "It's o.k." I pulled myself together and the next guard came on and I did what I had to do. Stronger than I thought I was, but human at the same time. 

Change takes place and for all of us and we face it the best we can. The activity teaches us to stand up tall and recover like a pro. It teaches us to keep going and that others are counting on you. I have looked forward to one true thing this year. It was the one thing I needed to do the most for months. I wanted to walk on the floor with Paradigm at the FFCC Championships. I've been with Paradigm since 2003. I needed to walk on the floor with them in the circuit I've spent 22 years of my guard career. I needed to see the faces of the kids and witness the show good or bad, with the staff I had been with for over a decade. I needed that continuity. I needed that support from a circuit I've been involved with since 1994. I needed to see my friends. When the word in the airport came down that the flight was delayed I wasn't worried, but one hour delay, became a two hour delay, and then a three hour delay. I was pretty convinced I wouldn't make it. Tears came down and I couldn't get them to stop. I couldn't believe that all the hard work all season would come down to me sitting inside an airport. In the end, with help from who else...a Paradigm staff member...made sure that once that plane landed, I would make it to championships even if we had to fly down the interstate. I made it with 15 minutes to spare. I saw the last 2 minutes of warm up and was with them in holding. We walked up the stands together and watched the show as a full staff. It was truly a special moment. For me, it was the only moment. Only the present mattered.

When I was judging championships in AIA on Saturday, I made sure to find one performer in every guard to make eye contact with as if to say, "You're doing great." I looked in the faces of the staff as they walked past me to go up top and see their guards. Most of them young. My hope for them is that they keep their passion alive like I have and my hope for them is that one day when they are judging, they remember that passion and what it was like to be fresh faced and wide eyed. My hope is that they never forget the kids and they find a group of people to call friend and to call family. 

We must never forget that our role in the activity is to foster and grow the kids into the adults that we hope will be the next tech, designer, administrator or judge. From Championships to Championships I've learned that giving back to the activity is crucial, because it saved me this year and this isn't the first time. I guess that's why I've pushed so hard for the dialog on training. I want those kids to have a great experience and to feel good about who they are and who they are standing on the floor with.

If I could give one piece of advice to my colleagues out there who are as old as me and logged thousands of hours in gyms and football fields, don't get bitter and don't forget how you started. Look the kids in the eyes. Watch retreat at championships. It's truly special. It will always bring you back to your passion and what remains the one constant in a world filled with change. It has been my privilege  to write this blog that so many of you read and I thank you for you kind words and comments. Enjoy your off season and I'll see you next year on the floor.