MINOOKA — Forget everything you think you know about high school winter guard and color guard teams. Erase from your mind thoughts of ROTC Color Guards of the 1980,s marching on fields in perfect formation with flags in hand.
Think instead of a sport the combines the elegance of dance, the drama of theatre and the fitness and finesse to do them both while spinning equipment such as rifles and flags.
It’s called the “sport of the arts.”
“It’s a collective sport that pulls from so many aspects,” MCHS Winter Guard head coach Amy Buckbee said. “It’s kids who like to dance, theatre kids; that all find a home together and bring passion from their own aspects.”
And bringing their passions to the table is what the Minooka Community High School Winter Guard team members did so well they not only made it to finals at Winter Guard International (WGI) for the first time in the school’s history, they brought home a bronze medal.
Minooka competed against teams from the U.S., Canada, England and Japan, Buckbee said. Any team can compete in preliminaries, and 105 teams did, but only the top 48 make it to the semi-finals. Minooka won their division out of 12 other teams and went on to the finals that same evening.
During the competition, people kept asking where Minooka even was, Buckbee said.
“It’s like a Cinderella story. They worked so hard from November through April,” Buckbee said. “They had one goal and were able to achieve it.”
By the end of the night, people from all over the world had heard of Minooka Community High School.
“People stopped them in the stands and said they loved our show,” Buckbee said.
It’s not hard to see how everyone loved Minooka’s performance to Cabaret singer Bill McKinley’s rendition of “Feed the Birds,” originally from the movie Mary Poppins.
The costumes of colorful head dresses against black-flowing fabric, made the “birds” appear to fly. The “bird lady’s” ragtag attire was also perfectly designed.
The performers’ graceful movements were right on cue, each flag, sword or sabre appearing to swirl and float through the air – and landing perfectly into the hand of the spinner.
Even the set was created to look like the stairs to St. Paul’s Cathedral as the bird lady went about urging others to help feed the birds.
This is the first year Buckbee took on the role of head coach for the Color Guard, although she’s been with the team as a volunteer since 2001.
She also brought on Tammy Edders as a volunteer coach. Edders has taken other teams to the national level. Minooka, in fact, is Edders’ fourth team to place in the top three.
“She knew what it took, what kind of commitment is needed,” said Buckbee. “She’s amazing.”
At the start of the year, coaches asked the team members what their goals were. The answer was unanimous; they wanted to make the finals at Winter Guard International (WGI).
Minooka High School has been very successful on the Midwest Color Guard Circuit, but hadn’t progressed out of the preliminaries at WGI.
“Going into the year, I wanted it to be a success and show them they could do good things,” Buckbee said. “Going into the season, that was their goal.”
The team rose to the challenge, practicing 62 hours over winter break alone. When other high school students were hanging out with friends and boyfriends, the Winter Guard team was spending their free time working.
The team won competition after competition and remained undefeated. They were ranked No. 2 in the nation during February and March.
So they upped their goal to not only performing in the finals, but bringing home a medal.
“We knew they could achieve great things,” Buckbee said. “Their goals started evolving.”
They won their division in the semifinals and headed into finals ranked at No. 3. They held tight to that place and won the bronze medal.
During the entire competitive season, the girls felt like everything was so surreal, said Buckbee.
“They just kept on winning,” she said.
If it still seems like a Cinderella story, it’s a story that the Minooka High School Winter Guard aptly deserves. There’s no Color Guard or Winter Guard on the junior high level, so everyone coming into the program starts on level one.
“They learn how to move exactly the same, they have to move their equipment exactly the same,” Buckbee said. “They have to learn how to dance, to spin, to perform. It’s such a hard task.”
Their hard work and dedication paid off, not only for the team, but for Minooka High School who can proudly add a bronze medal to their collection of trophies.
“They gave of themselves selflessly to achieve their goal,” Buckbee said. “I really respect them for that.”