The color guard members at Center Grove High School work as hard as championship athletes to get better.
Center Grove’s team members have to take classes in dance and gymnastics all year while they are perfecting their performances.
And it is year round. They twirl with the marching band in the summer and fall and practice and compete for awards during the winter and spring.
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Color guard members work on dance routines while simultaneously throwing flags and sometimes other props into the air.
In the past few years, the Center Grove program has grown and the team earned its best placing at the World Guard Internationals. The members snagged eighth place in the crowded field in Dayton, Ohio. In 2015, the team tied for 14th place.
The 17-girl squad was one of the smallest to compete at worlds, with larger squads sometimes having twice as many guard members, director Keith Potter said.
The guard had not earned a bid to the world guard final for three years before the 2015 finish, said Potter.
“It is a big shift to not being a finalist, to being eighth place in the world,” he said.
Potter took the helm of the color guard again last year after he coached the squad from 1995 to 2001.
His goal in taking the job again was to change and rebuild the program and to lead the girls to placings at national contests, he said.
“The program is strong and will continue to grow,” he said.
Hard work is how the teens have made it to top placings, he said.
Every member of the varsity squad is required to take a dance performance class at the school, which helps them maintain and polish body movement every other day.
After school they practice four days a week. Saturday practices are mandatory. So are practices during Christmas and spring breaks.
“It is a lot of sacrifices and not being able to do it and realizing little by little you can,” he said. “It takes some extra effort and sacrifice.”
After snagging a top 10 placing on a world stage is to grow the program with more members, he said.
Most successful programs who compete at internationals have strong feeder programs. Coaches recruit seventh- and eighth-graders to compete in a junior varsity squad.
Once they are in high school, the larger more advanced squads already have been doing color guard for at least a year, Potter said.
The key to growth is to ramp up the participation in junior high, so younger students go to high school already having the basic skills they need, he said.
Seven color guard members are seniors and will graduate this spring. Getting more junior high participation is the key to getting more students involved who can participate at worlds, he said.
Part of the reason to start cultivating color guard skills earlier is to make the program stronger as a whole, he said.
“It takes a lot more than a few months to cultivate it in the right direction,” Potter said. “It is a multi-year growing process.”
Color guard members start the season performing with the marching band most of the summer.
After marching band, some members may do another activity, such as a high school sport.
Members who want to extend their season for nearly the rest of the school year, until finals in April, participate in winter guard.
Those teens compete at invitationals and Indiana State School Music Association sanctioned events.
Interested teens should know that participating in color guard is a big commitment because it can be a year-round activity, members said.
“A lot of people say color guard is a life choice,” senior member Sierra Sichting said.
Guard members are responsible for learning and perfecting a show that can combine dance, gymnastics and artillery throws.
Practices are serious, with all students paying rapt attention to what they need to be doing, Sichting said.
“You really have to stay on your toes and do what you are supposed to be doing,” she said. “You have to get in there and get it done.”
Part of what has made the Center Grove guard successful is that the members have made the journey from not qualifying for finals three years ago to earning a top 10 placing this year, senior Maggie Kilbourne said.
“I think the group is starting to understand each other more,” she said.