Winter guard

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Winter guard is an indoor color guard sport derived from military ceremonies or veterans organizations ceremonies. Unlike traditional color guard, Winter Guard is performed indoors, usually in a gymnasium or an indoor arena. Performances make use of recorded music rather than a live band or orchestra. Winter guard was invented in the United States, which remains the predominant scene for the art.

Winter Guard ensembles commonly perform at judged competitions officiated by local and regional associations using criteria developed by Winter Guard International. In most states, they have a cadet guard and high school guard.

Team roles[edit]

A Winter Guard generally consists of performing members under the direction of an instructional staff. The staff of a winter guard team ("the guard") are drawn from many different specialties, which sometimes overlap: there are equipment instructors (sometimes one for the unit, sometimes broken out into the individual sections), dance instructors, and drill instructors. The equipment instructors create the choreography performed with equipment and teach it to the guard. The dance instructors create and teach the movement choreography in the show. The drill instructors focus on the position of the guard members relative to one another and to the boundaries of the performance area, in addition to where each member goes at which specific time during the performance. In some cases, all of these roles are fulfilled by one sole director.

A winter guard team usually has a captain, who is one of the performing members who leads and represents the guard. The captain may assume minor administrative duties and lead the team when instructors are not available. The captain is also the representative of the guard during awards ceremonies or retreat.

The number of members on a winter guard team varies widely from five to approximately 45.

Performance conventions[edit]

The duration of winter guard shows depends on the class in which the guard is performing. In competition settings, each winter guard team is allotted a set amount of time to set up staging (including a vinyl floor if the guard is using one, and any props associated with the performance), place all equipment, perform the show, and remove staging, props, and equipment. Setup and tear-down typically run two minutes each, and performances run around five minutes. Judges impose penalties on teams that run past the allotted time.

Unlike traditional Color guard (flag spinning) teams, which perform outdoors on a football field or parade route accompanied by a marching band or drum corps, winter guard teams perform indoors to recorded music.

In competitions, winter guard teams are judged in the areas of talent, precision, creativity, and horizontal orchestration (how all the elements create the larger picture/effect). Performances incorporate equipment, props, and dance moves.

Judges must keep a running commentary on a tape recorder or digital recorder. The judges record the score on a designated sheet to be reviewed by the individual guard instructor(s). After every one in a class has competed and their scores have been tallied, if the instructor(s) so choose they may meet with all the judges to discuss in depth why they received the score they did, ways to improve, what they are doing right etc. The goal of all parties involved, is to have the performers, staff, and the programs grow and learn.


Three primary types of equipment are used in winter guard: flags, rifles, and sabres (other items can be used to demonstrate artistic effects.) Such equipment is used in shows to demonstrate a team's technical ability. Rubber tape, such as electrical tape, is often used to cover the equipment and give it a uniform appearance and protect it from damage during the activity.


The most fundamental piece of equipment in color guard or winter guard shows is the flag. While winter guard flags take many different sizes and shapes, a standard size is a six-foot pole (metal) with a Three-foot "silk", often of a custom design. Smaller flags called "swing flags" are shortened poles with large silks connected to them. These poles are often plastic so they move more fluidly. These flags are often incorporated into the artistic element of the performance, even though they are not practical for tossing or spinning, due to the weight and length of the silk. Other flags may range from 5 feet to 7 feet depending upon the intended effect of the piece of equipment. Longer flags are not practical to spin or toss but generally serve as holders for large pieces of material.


Shaped similar to actual rifles, the rifles used in winter guard are made of solid or hollowed-out lightweight wood and weigh 2–5 pounds (about 1–2.25 kilograms). Most winter guard rifles have a length of 30–39 inches (about 76–99 centimeters) and are composed of seven parts:

  1. The neck of the rifle. The neck is where the trigger would be on a firearm rifle. Right-handed drop-spins are performed using the neck of the rifle as the axis for the spin, and the neck is also used in common tosses.
  2. The bolt is a long silver or black strip of metal or plastic connected to the body of the rifle by screws, made to look like the bolt on a firearm.
  3. The body of the rifle is the middle section and the majority of the mass of the rifle.
  4. The strap, a long leather strap that reaches from the butt end of the rifle to about two-thirds of the way to the nose of the rifle. The strap has functional and visual purposes, and it is also used to produce a snapping sound. The strap is similar to a firearm's sling.
  5. The swivel or clip is the metal piece that attaches the strap to the body of the rifle. This is the most common location for left-hand placement when executing a regular left-handed toss.
  6. The final part of the rifle is the butt, the heavier, back end of the rifle.
  7. The "tip" is at the end of the thin, long part of the rifle and is located on the opposite side of where the "butt" is.

Rifles can be made out of both wood and plastic. Some people prefer plastic because they are all the same weight and size, unless you order a bigger or smaller one. Others prefer wood because they're heavier and more durable. They are all exactly the same. Some people prefer wood because it is less slick and they can weight it the way they want to.[1]

Plastic Rifles[edit]

Usually rookies, people new to color guard, will use plastic rifles. They tend to be a little more forgiving and easier to handle. Some people may not like plastic rifles because they can become slick and hard to handle, either when its raining or just from the sweat from the users hands. Some plastic rifles come with a manufacture guarantee that they will not break under normal usage. Because most are made out of a material called polyethylene, this makes the rifle sturdy and harder to break. The material can also be colored so that different teams can use different colored rifles. Sometimes, though, the material can warp after several bad drops which can lead to a bad spin while the rifle is in the air. Plastic rifles may also start to smell after prolonged use, some say that after a long time it will tend to smell like sweat because of the performers hands. [2]

Wooden Rifles[edit]

Wooden rifles can be hard to use because they are all slightly different and may not be weighted the same, this is why people that are more familiar with rifles use them and not usually rookies. Most wooden rifles are made of either poplar or aspen wood. It is recommended to tape wooden rifles as to keep the ends protected and make it more durable, the tape can also be used for cosmetics. Electrical tape is the first choice of most winter guards because you can get the tape in whatever color is desired to match the show. Water is the main antagonist to wooden rifles, it can destroy a rifle and make it completely not usable, but if cared for properly and used correctly they can last for a long time.[3]


Sabres are elegant pieces of equipment used in winter guard. The length of sabres can range from about 30–39 inches (about 76–99 centimeters). They can either be plastic, metal, or plastic covered metal- though metal is more commonly used. Some metal sabres on the market are intricately decorated with engravings or etchings along the blade. These more intricately designed sabres tend to be more expensive.

Sabres have two main parts: the blade and the hilt. The blade has a pointed but dull end, and the length of the blade is dull as well. Some winter guard team members wrap their sabres in electrical tape, as they do with rifles. As with rifles, a piece of black or non-white tape placed near the center of rotation is used as a "spotter", making it easier to locate the fast-moving blade while it is rotating in the air. Sabres are used primarily by more advanced guard members.


2012 Winter Guard Preview Show

Guard members incorporate many different styles of dance into their shows. The most common styles of dance used are modern, contemporary, lyrical, jazz, and ballet. The different styles of dance are chosen depending on the different types of music chosen and the themes of the shows. Dance is usually incorporated into the equipment work, and is performed seamlessly throughout the show.

Winter Guard International[edit]

Winter Guard International is not only a national competition but it is also an organization that has been around for many years. Unlike other traditional sports the rules and regulations have been changed and altered many times since the activity has started. There are judges who judge separate elements of a show – such as general effect, movement, equipment, and penalty points – and score the groups accordingly.

Because this activity not only exists in the United States but all around the world, major competitions worldwide are sanctioned and managed by Winter Guard International. This is the governing organization that makes and changes the rules and regulations for this activity. The rules that are written by WGI apply to every Winter Guard group competing in the World Championships no matter what country they are from. The World Championships are held every year in the United States. Most recently they have been held at the University of Dayton Arena in Dayton, Ohio with some prelims and semi-finals held elsewhere around the Dayton area and Cincinnati area.

The phrase "Sport of the Arts" is frequently associated with WGI. Winter guard is described by saying "it brings music to life through performance in a competitive format."

Divisions and classes[edit]

Because not every color guard has the same skill level, population, or resources available, WGI uses a class division system to help remedy this. There are two divisions, Scholastic and Independent. These divisions include the classes (in descending order) Independent: Independent World Class, Independent Open Class, Independent A Class. Scholastic: Scholastic World, Scholastic Open, Scholastic National A Class, Scholastic Regional A, AA, and AAA. Novice Class and Cadet Class.

Guard teams can be chosen to move to a higher class, but they can only move down a class after a period of inactivity or after a WGI review. For every competition, any team which achieves a score higher than a predetermined threshold is automatically moved up, or "bumped", to the class above its current position, even mid-season.

The Scholastic division is made up of guards that have members that all attend the same high school or a feeder school of that high school. There are many colleges and universities that sponsor their own winter guards as well, but these guards typically compete as Independent guards. Scholastic guards vary greatly in their ability and resources because they are more dependent on support from sources other than the members themselves, such as their school's band and school funding.

In the Scholastic division, there are three classes: Scholastic A, Scholastic Open, and Scholastic World. More divisions may exist at the local/regional level, such as Regional A, or Novice. In many places there is also a middle school class, often called Cadet. Scholastic A teams tend to be a step above the regional level and are the lowest level to compete in WGI. Scholastic Open teams are an intermediate level for competition. The Scholastic World division includes the highest caliber of winter guard teams.

The Independent division is composed of winter guard teams that do not associate themselves with a school (the exception being university teams). Additionally, these kinds of guards can be much more selective of their members, choosing to be gender-specific or to only have certain numbers of members.

In the Independent division, much like the Scholastic division, there are the three classes: Independent A, Independent Open and Independent World. The breakdown of skill level and placement mirrors that of the Scholastic division. There are age restrictions in the Independent A and Open classes. A member can perform with an Independent A class group if they are 22 or younger as of March 31 of that year. A member can perform with an Independent Open class group if they are 23 or younger as of March 31 of that year.

Winter guard circuits[edit]

Although the goal of many winter guards is to compete in the WGI World Championships, most guard competitions take place in regional winter guard circuits. One such circuit is the AIA circuit, or Atlantic Indoor Association circuit in which teams across Virginia, Washington D.C., and North Carolina participate. These circuits are loosely organized and may not be formally affiliated with WGI. In many cases the circuits predate WGI by a number of years. For example, the Midwest Color Guard Circuit celebrated their 50th anniversary season in 2007.[4] They may also have different competitive structures with additional classes to those in WGI. Circuit classes often will include beginner or novice guards such as Cadet, Novice, B, Regional AAA, Regional AA, Regional A, and Regional Open. Circuits generally score using WGI standards and judges whether they are formally affiliated with WGI or not.

In addition, the winter guard activity is growing outside of the United States. In Europe, Color Guard Nederland (Netherlands) (CGN) and Winter Guard United Kingdom (WGUK) have recently affiliated with organizations from France and Germany to form the European Indoor Arts Alliance (EIAA) with the goal of creating a European Union-wide platform for the growth of the color guard activity in Europe, where the scholastic branch of the activity does not exist.


  1. ^ "MARCHING.COM: All About Accessories - Plastic vs. Wooden Rifles". Retrieved 2018-10-25.
  2. ^ "MARCHING.COM: All About Accessories - Plastic vs. Wooden Rifles". Retrieved 2018-10-25.
  3. ^ "MARCHING.COM: All About Accessories - Plastic vs. Wooden Rifles". Retrieved 2018-10-25.
  4. ^ MidWest Color Guard Circuit

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