Charles County Public Schools students come from five high schools to make up a team for winter guard, an indoor activity that combines choreography and props to tell a story or convey a theme.
Simply put, “You have probably seen a color guard perform with a marching band before, winter guard is the same, just without the band,” said Alyssa Engle, a computer science and engineering Project Lead the Way teacher at Westlake and artistic director of the winter guard.
Sixteen high school students — eight from La Plata, two from Maurice J. McDonough, two from North Point, one from St. Charles and three from Thomas Stone — make up the CCPS Winter Guard, with only six having prior experience as members of their school’s color guards.
For three years, Engle has been a color guard instructor at La Plata, St. Charles and Thomas Stone. The position helps her network and develop relationships with high school band directors. Kate Sellers, the group’s administrative director, is the band director at La Plata and Scott Shuttleworth, an instructor with the guard, is Westlake’s band director. McKenna Whalen, a 2019 La Plata graduate, rounds out the staff, as the group’s choreographer.
When the idea of a countywide winter guard surfaced, band directors promoted it through their respective music programs. The group was open to anyone who wants to give it a go. “There were no tryouts,” Engle said. “If you are dedicated to learning something new, you are welcomed on the team.”
Valente Ortiz, a North Point senior, learned about winter guard from his band director. A saxophone player, Ortiz plans to study music education at Towson University in hopes of becoming a band director. Learning about all facets of directing a band appeal to him. Plus, “I wanted to experience something different,” Ortiz said. “It’s a personal challenge.”
While she’s a dancer and involved in the performing arts at St. Charles, junior Lisa Fleet has found winter guard a new challenge.
“It’s a great opportunity for me to explore a new thing,” she said. The sport requires a different set of skills. “It’s dance, it shouldn’t be too hard,” Fleet said. “But it is.”
“It’s like dancing, but you have to throw things without hitting yourself,” Ashton Gordon, a La Plata senior and member of the school’s color guard, explained.
Members perform choreography and use flags, wooden rifles and sabers, along with other props to convey a theme to a panel of judges. The CCPS group’s show is called “Dignity & Honor” and uses the songs “Reflection” and “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” from “Mulan,” the 1998 Disney animated feature. The theme came from Engle’s need to exert the team’s sense of strength and a request from Sellers that the group shows its sensitive side.
Winter guard is not a new activity in the county — groups have existed in the past at La Plata and Westlake high schools — but this the first time a multi-school group has been established, Engle said.
Whalen grew up participating in color and winter guards while living in Oklahoma where school marching bands are a “huge thing,” she said. She doesn’t find it odd that band students from different schools can hit the ground running to form a team. “Marching band is sort of a culture in itself,” Whalen said. “When you meet other marching band kids, you’re already a family.”
The winter guard practices twice a week, with extra sessions on Saturdays as needed.