Music thumps from unseen speakers — 1950s rock and roll — and six girls take their place and begin dancing in the Clinton Middle School gymnasium.
It’s what you’re supposed to do when Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock” comes out of speakers, right?
You bet. Especially if you’re participating in Winter Guard.
Wait. Winter … What?
If you’ve been to a high school football game you’ve seen the “color guard” — the girls dancing around the marching band during halftime shows twirling flags, wooden rifles, and even flaming batons.
Winter Guard is just what the name says: The winter equivalent to the halftime color guard. There is no marching band, however, for the girls to perform to. It all comes from a mix either made for the routine the girls will perform, or in the case of these girls at CMS, off a mix found on YouTube.
“Winter Guard is performed inside,’ Coach Hanna Clark explains. “It’s an interpretation of music. We found ours on YouTube and it’s a good mix — old time rock and roll.”
Clark, a Clinton High School graduate and color guard performer, teamed up with another CHS alum, Haleigh Wright, to coach girls between sixth and eighth grade in the Clinton Middle Winter Guard squad.
Finding the right routine was the easy part. Getting enough girls to take part has been a challenge. For one, not many people are even aware there is a Winter Guard. But the real trick has been space and time for practice.
“Oh Lordy,” Clark laughed. “We’ve practiced in the Clinton High School band room after school, in churches, any organization with a big enough floor and a high ceiling.
“We even looked at a physical therapy center to see if the space offered was big enough.”
Clark said because Winter Guard starts at about the same time as basketball season (and wrestling) it’s hard to get gym time. The group gets practice time from 4:30 – 7:30 p.m. on Mondays, but the girls get their practices in when and where they can. On this day school is out and it’s one day where they have a gym that’s empty. Practice will last six hours. You have to do that when you only have one day a week to get the dance routine down.
On Jan. 19 the Clinton Winter Guard will have its first competition in Morristown.
Clark said the Morristown competition will act as a springboard for further events. The Morristown competition is judged, but it is more of a clinic.
“Judges will look at the routine, offer guidance, constructive criticism, and that will help us fine tune our routine,” Clark said.
The next four weeks will offer four more competitions and these will be judged as a true competition.
The Clinton Middle Winter Guard never finished below fourth place in its first year of competing during the 2017-2018 school year. The 2018-2019 school year is only the third year winter guard at this age level has been offered.
“It started as a way to help the high school band color guard,” Clark said.
“When these girls get to high school, and if they continue to perform with the color guard and Winter Guard, they will have a little experience with them.”
The girls talk and laugh during a break in practice. They sit in a circle and talk about whatever middle school aged girls talk about. But you can see on the dance floor they look out for each other. They’re teammates.
Routines last from three-and-a-half minutes up to seven minutes and Clark is constantly encouraging the dancers.
“Smile. Keep your head up. Don’t look at the flag. Don’t look at your hands. Smile.”
“You enjoy all of this?” one of the members is asked.
She shrugs, gulps a Poweraide, shrugs again.
Then breaks out into a big smile.
“Yeah, it’s pretty cool.”