It is proposal season for winter guard. Guard instructors from all over the country will submit proposals to their local circuits and to WGI in the hopes of changing some rule that will help the future of the activity. Many of the proposals will have legitimacy in their intent and some will be veiled by statements of the greater good, but are really selfish in nature to serve only a few. Many of the proposals won’t make a difference at all, while others will change the face of our activity forever. When those game changing proposals are voted on and accepted, then there should be a mechanism in place for an independent panel of reviewers to evaluate the effectiveness of the proposal and bring recommendations back to the Board after implementation and after an acceptable period of implementation has passed.
To my knowledge this doesn’t usually happen and if it does, it doesn’t usually include the majority of the key stakeholders in the activity as well as their opinions and if it does, it isn’t usually independent in nature.
Now, I realize this post is controversial and I’m o.k. with that. We need to talk about more than whether or not the seeding order at championships is correct (how many times can we discuss that) or whether or not there should be a black curtain at all shows. We need to be discussing ideas and concepts that impact the financial stability of the organization and the stability of the organizations that pay their dues to be a part of it.
There were two rules passed in the last decade that have changed the face of the activity. The first was the elimination of the age out rule and the second was the approval of world guards to be able to add an extra ten members, thus extending the maximum performers on the floor from 30 to 40. This post will focus on the first one. Both however, have had significant impact that have financially effected guards, but also how the shows are written, performed, and judged.
Age outs. We have gone from 21 to 22 to 23 to infinity. Because of judging, I get the opportunity to meet a lot of people from all over the country throughout the course of a season. I have heard many opinions on this throughout the years and regardless of where you stand on it, one thing is for sure and that is that everyone seems to have an opinion on the topic.
I, along with most of my friends come from a time when we were forced out of the activity at the age of 21 or 22. When I marched Pride, I went through the entire season for what I thought was my “age out” year. I was 21 and for the entire season I prepared for it to be my last. When WGI that year passed the rule that extended the age out to 22, I thought long and hard about marching again. My parents however, made the final decision for me. I think it went something like this, “You are going back to college and you will graduate. If you choose to march again, then we pull your college tuition and you are on your own.” I didn’t question whether they were bluffing or not. I was not about to dare, thus ending my marching career forever. A year and a half later I graduated college and started a career.
As a long time instructor in Florida and for much of that time at the world class level, I have had many conversations with older performers about wanting to march. Many of them talked about giving up careers, stalling their career, quitting college, putting college on hold, or in one situation threatening a spouse with divorce if they didn’t get to march again. Now, I love colorguard. I wouldn’t give it up for anything, but I’ll be damned if I advise a young person to go in the direction of the activity at the risk of their financial future, long after their time should have ended. Maybe I’m old school or maybe I’ve got too much of my parents in me, but I can’t in good conscience in this economy and with the state of the youth job market being the worst in any industrial country, tell someone to choose colorguard over their career. As a director I’m taking a risk by doing that, because I potentially loose a potential paying member. I do however, believe it’s a personal decision for every person to march after a certain age, but I think many people reading this post will be able to say that they have known one or two performers who are hiding in the activity, staying stalled in youth while their futures unfold without career ambition or the building of a legitimate resume. So I ask the activity this, are we risking the future of our young people to keep our world class momentum moving further into an artistic future? Are we risking the future of our performers while we collect dues that should be going into a retirement fund, to pay student loans, or to start a family? Are the directors of the world class guards asking these future performers if they have really thought through the decision and are in a place in their life where they wouldn’t jeopardize their future for some short term gain of colorguard?
Here are some of the reasons I’ve been given for someone who is 26, 30, and even 40 march:
- “I just want to be in finals just one more time.”
- “I just want one good season.”
- “I love performing. I could do it forever.”
- “I need to lose weight.” (I asked that person if they had ever heard of a gym, because it was much cheaper.)
Should we consider the possibility of a 30 year old in a guard with minors as a risk management issue for everyone from the guard they perform in to the local circuit to WGI? Possibly.
What about in this post Penn State era? Independent World Guard “X” performs back to back with Scholastic World Guard “Y.” Both are at the show in the locker room changing clothes. A 30 year old in the locker room changing clothes with a 14 year old. Is there impropriety? How would we know? Does it matter?
- Study this. Put an independent panel together of educators, researchers, non profit experts, and financial analysts and look at the cost it’s having on our kids and our programs.
- Create a tiered world class. Change the mold and create an arm of WGI that focuses on the artistic future of the activity that gives those who are more mature an avenue of performance that doesn’t jeopardize the future of a performer. Ice Skating and Gymnastics have already done it. We can too…it just takes some work and re visioning of the activity.
- Put the young people first. Do what other national organizations do and take an interest in the people who are putting their futures on hold to perform at a professional level. Put them in a data base and educate them on their options. Monitor just a little closer how we are using our talented young people.
Let’s actually discuss and debate this in an open forum. Make sure that stakeholders from all parts of the activity are at the table for the discussion. Bring in consultants while we are at it who are completely divorced from the issue. Why does this matter? Aren’t we really just talking about a few kids? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the answer to that question is no. We aren’t just talking about a few kids. We are talking about an evolving activity that not many people are grasping right now. I had a conversation with an instructor this past winter in critique who is 32 years old. He said that he didn’t understand how to be successful anymore. Now mind you, his guard is good. They just weren’t in the top. He told me that he was thinking about going back to march again to gain new knowledge. Something inside me during that conversation felt that every level of his thought process was wrong, because if for whatever reason Bella Koroli looses the graces of the gymnastics world, he isn’t going to go get on a balance beam to try to understand the new skills of gymnastics. He will look for other means of education. I’m fairly certain of that one. So why would we do it in colorguard? Have we even considered internship and apprentice programs that don’t include marching again?