Finding Ghosts Among The Ruins Of Dayton

shelba waldronPersonal Reflections, Winter Guard


When you wake up on Sunday morning in Dayton and look out the window of your hotel room, you see a city that is brown and lifeless. The buildings are crumbling and the roads are under construction. Dayton, Ohio is not a place where one visits by choice or just for fun. Dust covers the ground on any given Sunday in Dayton, but when you wake up on Sunday morning after WGI, you see a city that came to life among the ruins. For four days, four very special days, the dust and dilapidated buildings shine with the glitter of ten thousand colorguards and within that glitter, are the whispers of the past, the exhaustion of the present, and the Dayton’s yet to come. When you wake up on Sunday morning in Dayton and look out the window of your hotel room, the glitter is all gone and what you are left with is this indescribable feeling that the world all of a sudden seems a little less interesting and a little less fun and within that, you say goodbye to your heart, as the best people you have ever known board their planes that take them away from the center of you. 

When WGI is over, all that is left is a file of recaps to study and a drawer of videos that are tucked away like a favorite charm given to us by a special lover from our youth. Old arm bands, programs, ticket stubs, and photos end up in boxes lost to our memory of once was and in the ruins of Dayton, our memories gravitate to a time not many can grasp or can even attempt to understand and if you listen closely, you can hear the ghosts of Dayton’s past whisper their legacy. 

Sitting at World Class Finals on Saturday night I was struck by how many people continue to come to Dayton year after year. I met a great new friend this year in Dayton…another wonderful benefit of attending WGI. His name is Denny and he marched Emerald Marquis. He had not been to a WGI in about 15 years and watching his reaction to the World Guards was truly an unexpected gift. Where many of us have become jaded, Denny was overwhelmed and excited. It must have been like stepping out of a time capsule that left space dock somewhere in the late 90’s, and all of a sudden he spies cell phones, the internet, and flying vehicles.  On the breaks between guards, I would think about guards past and the impact those guards made on the activity. I thought about a time when on Saturday night the World Class performers walked around dressed to the nines, while they watched an event called, “Triple Finals.” I wondered how many in the arena remembered Triple Finals and how many actually grasped a time when finals was on Sunday. 

I thought about the guards and the people that made up those guards…many who were sitting in the audience watching their legacy come to life. They are the ghosts. The performers who stood on that arena floor in a time when it was not sold out in the round and a time when the activity was a little bit less commercial. 27 years I’ve been coming to WGI and in between guards, I thought of the wonder of our activity and the impact it has had on thousands upon thousands of people. As I watched the guards pull their floors to set for what would be their final performance, I thought of the shadows left behind. I remembered a time when we heard the phrase, “Let the ceremony begin,” and then the rain came and the house came down.

There was a time when we saw an Irish jig and couldn’t believe the immense talent that flowed from performer to performer. When a colorguard would present a final flag feature, my mind would gravitate to a flag feature that left us speechless. It was all white, developed from the back, and it was the first and changed the activity forever. On Saturday night if you closed your eyes and opened your mind, you could hear colors and their personalities being described to you and a rifle line entering on the color red. If you watched closely, you could see a gypsy caravan coming out of the tunnel. On Saturday night, I saw the flags of guards past. I saw Marilyn Monroe’s skirt fly and paint being thrown. I heard the song, “Summertime,” and then a score that would blow the minds of everyone in attendance that night. On one special occasion, we saw peacocks bring the arena to life, thus offering a new definition to the phrase, “Production Value.” 

Each year on a Saturday night in April, we watch as the present merges with the past and wonder where the future will take us. The ghosts of the past grace the arena. They sit in sections 313 and 212. Some are sitting in the center with a recorder in their hands and others are standing at the top of the tunnel welcoming the present to finals. They are everywhere. They are in the tent and outside listening to the smokers mull over present day colorguard. They are in warm-up holding the hands of the performers as they struggle to get their nerves under control. They are on retreat waiting to place medals around the necks of the next generation of winners, asking those performers just one simple request. “Remember this moment and thank those that came before you.” After the show, they are waiting at headquarters with a drink in their hand saying, “Welcome back. We’ve missed you.” They are the voices of the past and all they want is to welcome us back to Dayton. 

At some point during the weekend, we pay tribute to those we have lost by a simple toast of our cocktail and wish they were sitting with us. We tell old war stories like old men sitting on the front porch of a nursing home and we remember. Late Saturday night we say goodbye to our friends, give them a hug, and hope beyond all hope to see them again in this place we call Dayton. 

On Sunday morning upon the ruins of Dayton, we say goodbye as we pass the arena on our way to the interstate and say, “I’ll see you next year.” And with that, we say goodbye to the present and welcome the future and if you look closely, you can see a small piece of glitter glistening in the wind and its echo thanking you for your passion for this thing we call colorguard.