A Difference A Year Makes/ Championships to Championships

shelba waldronPersonal Reflections

When I wrote my final blog post at the end of last season, the 2015 season,  I had no idea how much of a difference the following year would bring me. I think for all of us who are passionately invested in the pageantry arts, we see it as a commitment for life. Whether we performed for only one season, taught just a couple of years, judged once or twice, or for many of us…put both feet in the deep end and jumped face first with a splash of water that rises so high it touches anyone within distance; the reality is that somewhere deep in our soul, we know we are committed for life. 
When I first joined winter guard, it’s safe to say I did it under duress. I was a gymnast. Not just some fly by night gymnast either. I was good and national bound. Circumstances arose and my 10 year career as a gymnast ended. At the time I was in the band and had been playing flute for 8 years. To be honest…I thought the guard was a bunch of untalented hacks. I mean…what seriously was this flag thing anyway? Without the musicians, they wouldn’t exist. This was the mid 80’s and I had no idea winter guard was even a thing. Well one day, I found myself…somehow…marching in the McGavock winter guard. I was a dandelion. Seriously…I was a freaking dandelion. Of course then the rain came and I was an umbrella. It’s a long story. Anyway, I personally thought it was kind of silly. All of a sudden though, we went to our first regional and it was the 1987 Pensacola WGI Regional. If you were around back then, you know that the Pensacola Regional might as well have been nationals. State Street, Alliance, Nouveau, Odyssey. Millers Blackhawks. I mean Wow. Seriously wow! What a first regional to attend as a newbie. I was hooked. All it took was one toss by the State Street rifle line to convince me that I didn’t know how, but this activity would be a part of me for life and it is….a part of me…for life. It might be the biggest part of me outside of my child. 

I judged two circuit championships this year and I was not just honored, but humbled to even be considered a part of those panels. Yesterday, I attended my third championships to see my own team perform. I almost missed it as my flight from one championships was delayed by three hours. I cried. I sat in the airport up against a wall at the terminal gate in tears as the time on the take off time kept being moved further and further back. It’s only in this activity that you would fly to one circuit on Friday night to judge 60 plus guards on Saturday, just to get up at 5:00 a.m. to fly to another circuit the next morning. It’s insane. It is totally and undoubtedly insane to do something like this. We do it though. All of us. We spend inordinate amounts of time to give the best experience to the performers as we can. Instructors. judges, board members, volunteers, parents, and contest staff. I mean, there are people behind the scenes that spend hours just to make sure the kids are given the best experience possible. Then there are the instructors. They work for free. They go broke. They cry and laugh with each other, just to experience that final moment at championships. It’s my favorite part of the season. Retreat. It’s the only time we get to see all the kids in one place, standing together as one. It’s special and every season in some circuit somewhere I make sure to watch retreat at championships. I love to see the kids faces as their units are called. I love the medal ceremonies. I love the local circuit championships so much more than the one at nationals, because every kid no matter who they are or what class they are in, is given the chance to stand on the floor and hear their name called. It’s truly a special moment. 

This year though, from Championships in 2015 to Championships in 2016, was the difference of night and day. For many of us, Championships is like New Years Eve. When the day is over a year has ended. It’s like a countdown to letting go of the old and welcoming the new. In this year, from championships to championships, I lost my dad. I realized that my job and career of 23 years no longer fits me. I tried to move and have basically done just about everything to uproot my life you can possibly imagine. The life I was living no longer fit me. What I found out though, that through it all, I had my color guard community. Some of my closest friends are in this community and they were there all along to support me in my struggles. They have always been there. I realized this year that life changes and sometimes faster than you want. The Universe doesn’t wait for you to make decisions. It has a plan for you, that you don’t even have an awareness of. I realized that I’m stronger than I ever imagined, but also weaker than I allow myself to be. Once this year, I was judging a guard and they did a show about death. I realized that I couldn’t finish the commentary as memories of my dad popped in my head. The person judging next to me just said, “It’s o.k.” I pulled myself together and the next guard came on and I did what I had to do. Stronger than I thought I was, but human at the same time. 
Change takes place and for all of us and we face it the best we can. The activity teaches us to stand up tall and recover like a pro. It teaches us to keep going and that others are counting on you. I have looked forward to one true thing this year. It was the one thing I needed to do the most for months. I wanted to walk on the floor with Paradigm at the FFCC Championships. I’ve been with Paradigm since 2003. I needed to walk on the floor with them in the circuit I’ve spent 22 years of my guard career. I needed to see the faces of the kids and witness the show good or bad, with the staff I had been with for over a decade. I needed that continuity. I needed that support from a circuit I’ve been involved with since 1994. I needed to see my friends. When the word in the airport came down that the flight was delayed I wasn’t worried, but one hour delay, became a two hour delay, and then a three hour delay. I was pretty convinced I wouldn’t make it. Tears came down and I couldn’t get them to stop. I couldn’t believe that all the hard work all season would come down to me sitting inside an airport. In the end, with help from who else…a Paradigm staff member…made sure that once that plane landed, I would make it to championships even if we had to fly down the interstate. I made it with 15 minutes to spare. I saw the last 2 minutes of warm up and was with them in holding. We walked up the stands together and watched the show as a full staff. It was truly a special moment. For me, it was the only moment. Only the present mattered.
When I was judging championships in AIA on Saturday, I made sure to find one performer in every guard to make eye contact with as if to say, “You’re doing great.” I looked in the faces of the staff as they walked past me to go up top and see their guards. Most of them young. My hope for them is that they keep their passion alive like I have and my hope for them is that one day when they are judging, they remember that passion and what it was like to be fresh faced and wide eyed. My hope is that they never forget the kids and they find a group of people to call friend and to call family. 

We must never forget that our role in the activity is to foster and grow the kids into the adults that we hope will be the next tech, designer, administrator or judge. From Championships to Championships I’ve learned that giving back to the activity is crucial, because it saved me this year and this isn’t the first time. I guess that’s why I’ve pushed so hard for the dialog on training. I want those kids to have a great experience and to feel good about who they are and who they are standing on the floor with.

If I could give one piece of advice to my colleagues out there who are as old as me and logged thousands of hours in gyms and football fields, don’t get bitter and don’t forget how you started. Look the kids in the eyes. Watch retreat at championships. It’s truly special. It will always bring you back to your passion and what remains the one constant in a world filled with change. It has been my privilege  to write this blog that so many of you read and I thank you for you kind words and comments. Enjoy your off season and I’ll see you next year on the floor.