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Adding Arts and Athletics
By James Peacemaker, Jr. Managing Editor
Mar 7, 2014, 16:00

JAMES PEACEMAKER JR./HOPEWELL NEWS/NEWS-PATRIOT Members of Colonial Heights High School’s Concept Winterguard compete at Mils Godwin High School on Saturday.

COLONIAL HEIGHTS — Winterguard performers find a lot of different things to like about the competition, which includes dance, twirling flags, and a bit of theater.

But when Colonial Heights freshman Halie Stewart was asked what she liked about it, she replied without hesitation, “It’s pretty much family.”

“I mean we fight, but at the same time, when it comes down to it, we are there for each other. ... I know everything I need to know about these girls and everything I don’t need to know,” she said with a laugh.

For those unfamiliar with Winterguard, it is similar to normal color guard except it is performed inside gymnasiums on a padded floor rather than on a football field. The season runs from January through April. Performers use flags but also twirl and throw rifles, batons and even sabres. There is a lot more dance involved and they can perform moves on the floor that can’t be done on a grassy football field. Rather than performing to the sound of a marching band, they use recorded music that also gives them a lot more creative freedom.

The most dramatic difference however is the theatrical component.

Each team rolls out a large floor covering to transform the gym into the scene of their choice.

At their first-place performance Saturday at Mills Godwin High School in Henrico, Colonial Heights’ team Concept Winterguard used a metal structure that was welded by a man in North Carolina to turn the entire dance floor into a giant guitar. Long straps were plucked like guitar strings.

Other themes in previous years included a UFO invasion, a wishing well, stargazing, and a swamp complete with its own dock.

Head coach Robert Custer, who has been the guard instructor at Colonial Heights for 12 years, works to pick the theme and develop the choreography.

“You find a song that inspires you, and you just think of a concept and the colors and how you plan to interpret lyrics,” he said.

Custer said they try set themselves apart from all other groups in the competitions.

“We don’t look like anybody else. We try to do the unique, the different. We have to stand out. We’re judged on how we stand out. ... They remember us,” Custer said.

There is big emphasis on the team. Coaches make sure everyone works together, even when it is time to load the equipment into the trailer.

“It’s all about the team ... and it’s fun to be with everyone together,” said Melissa Irving, a junior. “It’s a lot of practicing, but it pays off in the end.”

Stewart said she played soccer, did dance and performed with the marching band.

“I’ve done every sport ... but this has to be my favorite, because you don’t get as close on those teams as this,” she said.

Senior Lauren Walwer has been doing winterguard for all four years of high school. She said saw them in eighth grade when they were performing with the marching band during homecoming. All of her friends were joining.

“We spend so much time together. Every day of the week we are practicing. ... and Saturdays we have competitions,” she said.

Winterguard is a unique blend of sports and art, giving people with different interests a chance to work together.

Libby Ryan, a sophomore, said she likes the creative side.

“I like that it has the whole spectrum. It has art. It’s performing. It’s like you’re in a stage and you get to have different colors and you also get to dance, and basically the whole thing put into one sport,” she said.

Different parts of the team can each have a special thing that goes into the show, she said.

“I like being able to take out all of my stress into the choreography we are given,” Walwer said.

Stewart said there is a lot of athleticism involved in winterguard as well.

“We run just as much as other sports,” she said.

The Colonial Heights group is unique to the Tri-City area, so it requires traveling farther for competitions. Performers from competing schools also share a special bond.

Mason Lemocks, a 2009 graduate of Colonial Heights High School who is also one of the instructors, said he also works with Powhatan High as well as Colonial Heights.

But he said he doesn’t feel torn between the two schools.

“This is such a sport that you can’t have that kind of attitude because it’s so small,” he said.

Lemocks said so few people participate, there is a camaraderie even among competing teams.

“Everybody wishes good luck passing each other,” he said.

“With such a small community of color guard people, they kind of stick together,” Lemocks said.

Concept Winterguard is now raising money to attend the three-day Winter Guard International Color Guard World Championships in Dayton, Ohio, set for early April.

There are more than 100 groups that come from as far away as Netherlands and Japan.

“We’re approved to go and now we’re just trying to figure out how we are going to make it there,” Custer said. “It’s an honor to go.”

Those interested in helping to fund the trip can donate to the Colonial Heights Band Boosters at Colonial Heights High School and designate it for the WGI fundrasier.

For more information, visit or search for Concept Winterguard on to see past performances.

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