The Greatest Love

shelba waldronAdvocacy, Winter Guard

Some things change, they never stay the same. Life goes on and as the old adage states and many who come of age headed to the downward slope of their lives; you can never go home again.

Dayton not the city, but what we call WGI is the epitome of the cliché’ of just about every life quote, motivational poster, and famous poet that ever spoke of the struggle of life. The city of Dayton has gone through many transformations and as much as things change, some things have stayed the same. For instance, the roads in Dayton have been under construction for well…ever. What are they doing? The Hara Arena for example, where many of us practice and many of us premiered our first shows back in the 90’s is still cold as ice as it’s well…an ice rink. Edwin C. Moses Blvd is still there and that exit is a big deal for those of us driving down from the airport on our first day in Dayton. For those coming from the south, it’s the witnessing of the Cincinnati skyline for the first time coming over the bridge. The planes to Dayton are filled with kids in guard jackets. That will never change. There is Needmore Road, South Patterson Blvd. and the Denny’s. The Denny’s? Yes the Denny’s. It’s the hell hole food many of us have eaten after hungover from Saturday night. I was shocked to see that they closed it. Now it’s just a memory of once was. That piece of crap, bad service Denny’s was one of our hangouts. The Marriot. Next year at this time it will look completely different. Al is still there. Al. He is the bartender that has worked headquarters for a decade. He is just as much a part of the WGI experience as the guards themselves. Every year Al tells me that I’ve added wrinkles around my eyes or I look haggard. I love Al. He tells it like it is. He makes me laugh and knows my drink without pause. He’s the consummate bartender.
It always rains in Dayton. Always. It always seems to rain in Dayton at the most inconvenient time for the guards. This year is snowed. We’ve seen snow, but this was new. We were covered in it. I slid on ice driving to A finals at the Nutter Center. I was like, “Damn…I certainly want to live to see finals.”
Things change and they can never stay the same. There’s no use in holding on. Life is like that. Those of us who are old are desperate for the past and those who are young don’t even grasp it. They just want to move forward.
I guess this is what brings me to the point of this post. It’s important that life moves forward and we as an activity keep evolving and growing and changing, but this year there was something missing and many of us old timers’ seemed to feel it. We couldn’t put our finger on it, but throughout many conversations in many different arenas, many different people and many different cocktails; I’m going to try to pinpoint it.
We feel…we the people…we some of the people maybe…feel that tradition has gotten lost in the income generating empire WGI has become. No one and I mean no one wants to go back to a time when only 100 guards came to Dayton. We love seeing a sold out crowd on Saturday night, but we want some of the aspects to never get lost in the rush for money, marketing, and advertising.
I’ll start with this. Lynn Lindstrom. The First Lady of WGI. Her picture should have been hanging in every arena, in every city. Her tribute should have reached to Cincinnati to Millett Hall and the Marriot. Wouldn’t it be nice to see tributes to guards of the past in the form of pictures or old clips, because we are all here today, because Anthron did something really weird back in the 80’s or Alliance came out of the tunnel with tents and a gypsy show. We are here, because many of us were forced to age out and teach at the age of 22. We are here today, because Ernie announced the guards and his voice was truly something special for those of us striving to reach finals. We are here today, because people sat in board rooms, bars, and circuit shows trying to find new ways to give the best experience to kids. There is no single person that owns the activity. We all do. We feel that…no not we…I’ll just say I, because I don’t believe in speaking for others. I feel, that we are losing our traditions and that they are being swept to the side like some glitter left over after a New Year’s Eve party in the race for whatever gains income.  
I felt awful for the A class guards. They pay their dues, work just as hard and populate the entire activity at the local and national level, yet this year it just wasn’t the same. Part of the tradition is the tunnel. Kids for years have worked just for the privilege of walking down that tunnel. Some years you make it and some years you don’t, but trying to get your props down the tunnel without losing control of them is something everyone should experience at least once. That little side room is another tradition. What it looks like though, is that the World Class now owns the arena and just happens to give it up on Sunday morning, because they are tired. It wasn’t lost on many of us that Independent World went on at night in the arena every day of competition. It wasn’t lost on most of us when the predictability of few people showing up for A finals. That was a shock…not. Did the kids have a good time? Of course they did. However, Friday night use to be theirs. We use to even give them Triple Finals on Saturday and the World class went on Sunday. Now both Open and A go on back to back Saturday morning. That makes me sad. I overheard a WGI staff member at Nutter complaining that they weren’t working the arena. See, even the contest staff would rather be at the arena.  That actually made me cry, because it sounded as if we were second class and for many of us it’s the contest staff’s faces from our local circuits that makes us feel comfortable at WGI. That’s a me thing I guess. There is nothing more special than seeing that kid who walks on the floor at A finals for their very first WGI. Nothing! I also must say that there isn’t anything more special than watching a young instructor get to experience it as well. I wonder though, if we are losing it all in the quest for more.
Things change I guess. Being in Dayton for A and Open is hard. It’s hard to plan for and it’s a constant level of stress involving much travel, to multiple cities, at absurd wake up calls. We do it though, because we want our kids to experience Dayton. We…no I…understand that the activity has grown and we most likely have grown out of Dayton, but I know it has to grow. I know it can’t be like it used to be. I mean this year there were police monitoring the hallways at the arena. Not security. Police. One of them yelled at a kid in the hallway for just standing….and he yelled. It’s just not the same when we need police for crowd control. I don’t think I liked that, even if the insurance company did require it.
I don’t profess to this day understand why the activity has become a classical music, piano concerto, wine and cheese toss fest. It has though. I made a joke during finals and said, “Oh my God could someone come out and just do Beyonce’?” When I got in the car to come to the airport on Sunday, Beyonce’ was on the radio. I laughed. So o.k. Piano concerto’s it is. When they changed the age out to no age out many years ago, many of us complained. Many complain to this day, but there is no denying the athleticism, talent, and skill that comes from 30 year old adults who have honed their skills over a lifetime. I still like watching the kids, though. The real kids. It makes me happy. It’s my thing, I guess.
I remember when the judges could hang out at headquarters and weren’t sequestered. I get it. It’s the world championships. I can still miss it, though. Those judges are our friends, colleagues, and sometimes family. We never get to see them anymore and many of them are even afraid to speak to us. I feel that we’ve created a divide and somewhere along the line, WGI has lost the voice of the people, the ones who don’t sit on the board made up of World Class guards and those of us that don’t earn shares at the end of the season after all the dollars are counted. There is an overwhelming feeling of us vs. them…people are just afraid to speak it out loud. Someone used the phrase this weekend that the 1% now truly owns the activity as we watch percussion commercials between shows. We have to make money to grow. We all understand that. It’s how we are sustained. However, I do have to ask this. Doesn’t  A Class and Open Class sustain us at some level? I mean there’s only about 50 or so World guards. Let’s be honest here. I’m no mathematician, but somehow the math doesn’t work. I guess the advertising dollars are so great it really doesn’t matter. I don’t know. I do know regardless of the math, that the A class pays into the system at a much higher rate both locally and nationally. There is just simply more of them. Everyone pays their entry fee’s. There were 200 A Cl;ass Guards at WGI this year out of a total of 350 or so guards. ( I think I counted 346) So what is that…58% of the entire world championships? O,pen Class comprises 28%, so total the Open and A teams and you get roughly 86% of the World Championships and the argument is that it’s the World Class that sells out the arena. No one debates that, but it doesn’t change the percentages, because if even half of THAT 86%, chose not to attend, then the tide would most certainly turn.
When WGI announced the movement of A class to the Nutter Center on Saturday morning many people complained. I advocate for a living and in advocacy 101, you always learn to look at who is speaking and what interests they hold. You find the conflicts of interests and in that particular case, there were many. How many guards should go into finals? I don’t know. I guess 25 and 20 is a good number. It makes sense. It does. How do you make it happen with 350 guards? I have no idea. I know that using five facilities must be a logistical and expensive nightmare. I do think though, it was a rushed decision that didn’t really look at the impact it had on the crowds and the general feeling of “Well, that sucks. We no longer as an activity have an option to see all the finals performances if we so choose.” We all suck it up though, and move on. A decade from now no one will remember that A Class kids ever marched in the arena and we were able to choose to see all of the finals shows.
So here we are. Things have changed again. Just like television and technology. We grow and losteTriple Finals. We grow and lose the ageout tradition of leaving gloves on the floor. We grow and we lose the ability to make and watch video’s for years to come. We grow and many kids lose the arena. We may or may not get to see both finals ever again and that makes me sad, because many of us over the years have really tried to at least catch some of each of finals. That my friend is not a direction I’m willing to sit back and let happen.  In my vested interested in A class, it’s my job to advocate for a better system. I heard a lot of bitching this weekend. A lot! I heard a quote at the Nutter Center that just made me sad.

 “Well aren’t we the welfare children of WGI. Where is our block of cheese?”
Wow. Just wow. The benefit I have of being just a person in the stands and not sequestered or have special rooms at headquarters or attend private board meetings and have the cell number of important people, is that I get to listen and watch. I have the privilege as a writer of having people randomly talking to me. I watch and there is a feeling of us vs. them.  I don’t get to sit like a queen on top of the arena watching finals. It is undeniable and as in all real change, at some point we will lose who we are and become who we will be. Let’s be careful though, because we don’t want to go down the path of major nonprofits, where we find out that the mission got lost in the quest for money…Red Cross, Salvation Army, Susan G. Coman, Untied Way. Their pocketbooks were hit hard from donations when the stories broke. 
And no. It wasn’t the same being at Nutter over the arena. It just wasn’t. They tried to sell that to us, but I know cow patties when I step in them. You know what would be amazing? Put World Class in the intimate environment of Nutter for Semi’s and I still bet the show would be packed as Semi’s would allow people to see the choreography up close and Saturday we could absorb the ambiance of the arena and A Class could have Friday night back. A and Open could even take turns on Friday nights. Just a thought. World could go back to Sunday’s. The options are limitless if we try hard enough. If nothing else, for the love of God, let’s figure out a way to get each finals a suitable audience for a world finalist.
My hope, because I always end with a hope. My hope is that those that feel disenfranchised will speak up. You know the best way to do it? With your dollars. Change occurs when you hit the pocketbooks of people in charge. It’s how we achieved social change in the civil rights movement and the gay rights movement. If you want change, you have to stop bitching and do something about it. You can’t let fear of debate or apathy stop you. Someone asked me this weekend if I was afraid my guard would be impacted by speaking out? I was like…WHAT! No of course not. One…I trust the judges. Two…if that ever happens I’m done. This is why I write. I want to keep tradition alive, dialog moving, and a future that involves all the voices.
I love winter guard. I love the people. I love my friends. I love my lifelong friends. I love headquarters. I love the arena. I love the shows. I love to know that I was around when there were Sunday shows and Triple finals. I love having the history. I love Al at the bar. I love Needmore Road that we make fun of every year. I love the tailgating at World Finals. I love the hugs in the halls. I love the standing ovations (all be it they are becoming less and less). I love the parties. I love the debates on the direction of World Class. I love that I hate that I’m tired for a week after WGI. I love the memories that carry me in the hard days of real life.  I love seeing my friend’s judge, work the shows, and walk on the floor with their guards. I love that there is such a bond between all of us, even when we are sometimes irritated and mad at each other. Mostly though, I love the traditions. Such as the oranges. You must eat a Dayton orange.
When I marched Pride we had a tradition of singing a song. “The Greatest Love of All.” There’s a line in it we must never forget.
“I believe the children are the future teach them well and let them lead the way.”

In the end, this picture below will get lost in a sea of Dayton’s and 2016 will be a memory we will barely recall. The big scandal of the A Class NutterGate will be forgotten. All that will be left is a piece of confetti some young A Class performer picked up off the ground and tucked away in their memory box. We have to though, keep striving to make it better and reaching for different avenues of performance. We can’t rush big decisions and have keep the mission always in our minds. We must listen to our instincts, lose our ego’s, and include all the voices. It’s not just about our future, but it’s also about our traditions and our past, because without the past, we will lose the spirit. This is for all of us those that own a piece of confetti called the sport of the arts.
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