After watching a recent Winter Guard performance I was a little surprised to see that no one was wearing an eyepatch.
Sabers were flashing and slashing, whipping and waving, and being tossed in the air and from performer to performer, all in astonishingly-close proximity to each other.
Page High School’s Winter Guard took first place at their most recent competition on Feb. 17. It was their second competition of the year. They placed second place in their first competition.
“We’re feeling really good about our success,” said Winter Guard director Katrina Wunderlich. “The kids have been working really hard and it’s nice to see them have some rewards from all that work.”
Winter Guard is a drill-style sport that combines dance and choreography with sabers, rifles and flags. It’s similar to Color Guard but with more dance elements. And flying sabers.
Teams are judged on overall visual effect, equipment proficiency, movement as individuals and as a unit, and how much the audience is moved by the performance. Each routine is about four and half minutes in length.
Another big difference between Color Guard and Winter Guard is that Color Guard is performed in conjunction with a marching band, whereas Winter Guard movements are performed to a pre-recorded soundtrack.
“[Using a pre-recorded track] takes away an element of creativity but adds an element of consistency,” said Wunderlich.
This is only the second year that Winter Guard has been offered at Page High School. It was founded by their director Katrina Wunderlich, who herself competed in Winter Guard when she was in high school.
She also founded a Winter Guard program at the high school where she previously taught, Shawnee High School in Medford, New Jersey.
“I continue to do it because I loved it so much and learned so much from it when I was in high school,” said Wunderlich. “I know it’s worth it for the kids. Winter Guard was so pivotal in my development as a human.”
Winter Guard contains several elements that Wunderlich really likes and appreciates.
“There’s no bench. The members perform every second of the performance,” she said. “Another thing I really like about it is if you want to be successful, you have to develop a sense of team. It’s a true collaborative effort. If you’re at the bottom talent-wise, you really stand out. Same if you’re a lot better than the rest of the group.”
Wunderlich also likes Winter Guard for the way it combines physical strength and endurance with finesse.
“It’s as athletic as any other sport,” said Wunderlich. “There’s leaping, cart-wheels, backbends, hand springs, all while doing saber and flag tosses.”
This year’s Winter Guard team is comprised on 13 individuals. The team ranges from seventh to twelfth grade in order to field a full complement of performers.
Because last year was Winter Guard’s inaugural year they concentrated on the basics.
“This year everything is more intense,” said Wunderlich. “Such as last year was about how to move, this year is how to create mood as we move.”
Wunderlich helps her students with their individual movements and she is assisted by Gwen Lasslo, who helps the students with their dance and movement as a unit.
Lasslo, who has a background in dance, never intended to become involved as she has.
“I told Katrina that I could probably help her about an hour a week,” Lasslo said. “But, it’s pretty addicting.”
Lasslo now devotes two or three hours a day to the program.
This is Page High School sophomore Cammie Robinson’s first year doing Winter Guard, and she’s very happy she joined.
“I love it!” she said. “It has given me an experience that no other sport has given me”
Robinson has played soccer, volleyball, cross-country and track but says the skills needed for Winter Guard rise to an entirely new level of concentration, hand-eye coordination and foot work.
Robinson has been involved in athletics her whole life and she was surprised by how physically demanding the sport was.
“It’s harder than any other sport I’ve done,” she said. “It requires a lot on both physical and mental levels and that really appeals to me. You have to be very precise when you’re tossing sabers back and forth. You can’t just throw it in the general area.”
Robinson joined Winter Guard after watching her best friend compete in the sport last year.
“I wanted to know how they could throw a spinning, twisting sword 20 feet in the air and catch it,” she said. “I wanted to do that.”
And when the entire group was doing that on a synchronized level that was even more appealing.
“I just loved the way it all looked.”
Winter Guard’s next performance will be March 23 and 24 at Iron Woodridge High School.