Call it the sport of the arts.
It involves running, dancing and incredible arm strength to accurately hoist a wind-resistant flag in the air, make it spin three times and catch it behind the back.
All while maintaining a performance face.
Greenwood High School has one of the only Winterguards in western Kentucky and despite the two teams waving huge flags and bringing home multiple trophies, it has been one of the best kept secrets since it was started two years ago.
While most people are familiar with color guards that perform alongside the marching band during football season, few know that a whole different sport picks up the flag in November and continues indoor competition until April.
Jason Henderson, the Winterguards director at Greenwood, said the sport is an element of its own as the teams of about 15 perform indoors to an instrumental soundtrack, rather than music performed by the band.
The guard also is judged on a tougher scale - judges are only feet away from the performers and look for things like expression and succinct movement.
Greenwood has two Winterguard teams that have been bringing home first-place trophies almost every weekend as they compete against schools from Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia.
“Most people don’t know anything about it because they don’t get exposed in the community that much,” Henderson said. “With the marching band, they’ve got the halftime show and opportunities to perform around the area. One of our biggest goals is to … eventually perform during halftime at basketball games or do a performance for elementary school assemblies.”
While color guards practice to cover an entire football field by twisting their flags to the band’s performance, the Winterguard only has the gym floor to demonstrate their grasp of theater, athleticism and dance.
Hanna Preslar, a 16-year-old junior on one of the teams, said she also performs on the color guard during “field season” and sees big differences in the types of productions between the two.
She said the Winterguard emphasizes the look under the equipment as much as the movement and synchronization of the flag motions.
“Everything from your eyebrows to your toes has to look just right because you are closer to the judges and they can see everything,” she said.
Hanna said while Winterguard performers don’t have to contend with wind or heat from outdoor practices, it seems that perfection is much more necessary for indoor performances.
“If you do something wrong, everyone knows because it makes a really loud noise (when the flag hits the ground),” she said. “No one really notices mistakes on the field until you watch a video of the performance after the fact.”
Sixteen-year-old Sara Zink, a sophomore, plays the French horn during the fall and said she admired the color guard performances and jumped at the chance to participate in the Winterguard.
“I always admired color guard because it looked like something I’d want to do because I like dance and it has a lot of dance in it,” she said. “It’s an artistic type of sport.”
The teams spend several hours a week, including some eight-hour Saturday practices, whipping the flags around their bodies and tossing them rippling through the air to turn around and land precisely in their hands.
“I don’t think people realize how difficult it is, because the whole point is to make it look easy,” Sara said. “If you achieve that, then people think it’s easy, but the fact is, there’s a lot of hard work behind it that makes it what it is.”
The teams work collectively to even paint the mat they perform on so it captures the mood of the music or even tells a story behind the performance itself.
When it’s finished, the current mat for one of the teams will have “corridors,” or pathways where the group will “run through” during the presentation to further the theater aspect of the sport.
Eighteen-year-old Meredith Kilgore, a senior who has been with Winterguard for two years, said she joined color guard without ever seeing a performance. Kilgore said the band instructor asked her to go to a clinic when she was a sophomore for field season, and not wanting to let him down, she showed up thinking she wouldn’t like it.
“I didn’t think I’d find joy in spinning a flag, but I loved it,” she said. “It’s something I can call my own. My sister sings, but I’m the only one in any part of my family that does this.”
Kilgore said she never considered herself a dancer, despite years of dance classes, until she began the Winterguard.
“The field has different demands because it is a bigger canvas with a football stadium rather than a basketball stadium,” she said. “This is a more luxurious season because you’re indoors with a smaller canvas … it does more to interact with the audience and you are reminded that there are people you are sharing the arts with rather than going through the motions and performing on a big grassy field.”
The guards have grown considerably, Henderson said. Since he began coaching two years ago, the fall color guard grew from 12 members to 24, while the numbers continue to climb with Winterguard as well.
Seventeen-year-old Joe Helms, a senior on the Winterguard, said he watched his girlfriend perform with the color guard in the fall and came to respect the work that went behind the performances after seeing one of the team’s practices.
Joe said he once picked up a flag and tried to learn the motions as a joke, then several team members suggested he audition for Winterguard when he began picking up the moves quickly.
Joe is one of two males on the team now, and said he thinks more will join in the future when they realize it is a difficult sport.
“We work harder than it seems like the basketball and football teams at times, because we sometimes have eight-hour days,” he said. “The color guard practices on blacktop in 90-degree heat … to see them from practice to a game was really amazing for me.”
Kilgore said she hopes to see the program continue to grow and gain recognition after she graduates. She said she has talked with officials at Georgetown College, where she will attend college in the fall, about starting a Winterguard there as many former “color guard girls” have joined dance teams and other programs ,but miss the flag performance.
“They said I can start a Winterguard there, otherwise I might go through flag withdrawal,” she said.