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Agawam High School students in winter color guard run, dance and manipulate props in choregraphed routines.

Reminder Publishing photo by Mike Lydick

AGAWAM — From February to April, a special student ensemble from Agawam High School travels to gyms across New England for competitions that combine the grace of dance with the focus of gymnastics and the expressiveness of theater.

Known as color guard, it’s often called “the sport of the arts.” Students move, run and dance while using flags, mock rifles, sabers and other props to enhance choregraphed dances and routines with “show-stopping” spins.

It’s best known for performing at AHS football games with the school marching band, which provides the musical soundtrack for their routines. When football season ends, many members of “fall” color guard transition indoors for”‘winter” guard.

The co-educational, performance-centered extracurricular team has performed in regional competitions for the past seven years. Winter guard performs its routines, which also requires training in weapon work and flag tricks, without the marching band, using recorded music.

In addition to regional competitions, the 12-member winter guard ensemble puts on two free community shows at the Agawam Junior High School gym. This season, the first was in February, just before its first competition, and the second was April 4, days before its final competition of the season.

“We’re hoping these performances will attract new students who might be interested in color guard, as well as community members who are curious as to who we are and what we do,” said Stephanie Keenan, the team’s advisor.

The high school’s original winter guard was started in the late 1970s by Darcy Davis, its legendary band director.

“It was a successful competitive group into the late 1990s, but was dissolved in the early 2000s,” said Keenan, a grade 4 paraprofessional at Granger School.

Keenan restarted winter guard in 2012 after students from fall guard expressed interest in continuing to perform.

“The program started as just a drop-in club to continue learning new skills on flag, rifle and saber,” she said. “I really love color guard and I’d noticed a decline in numbers for the fall program. I wanted to revive it because I had enjoyed being in both fall guard and winter guard during my time at AHS. I wanted to see it offered to our current students.”

Keenan said she “loves bringing the joy of color guard” to students.

“It’s so gratifying to see students master a skill and gain confidence in themselves. I also love coming up with a show — from picking songs, costumes, writing choreography and watching students bring shows to life.”

When winter guard students expressed interest in learning a show to perform, Keenan and the team put on its first performance at the AHS Spring Arts Festival in 2016. With the success of that show, they joined the competitive circuit.

According to Keenan, the team’s first year of competition — its first since 2001 — was very successful. At the end of the season, it was named Scholastic Novice Class champions by the New England Scholastic Band Association.

In 2018 and 2019, winter guard moved up to the next class and had successful seasons while representing Agawam and Western Massachusetts throughout New England. It returned to the state finals both years. In 2020, it achieved first place in its division in the first two competitions before the season was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

 In 2022, the winter guard team returned to in-person competitions through NESBA as well as participating in virtual competitions. During the 2024 season, the group scored its highest opening score of 69.52 when debuting its show “The Flood” at the NESBA Evaluation show in February. That opening score moved the group from its beginning training class level to a more intermediate level.

“This was the first time we had moved up in class since the end of 2017. It shows how much this program has grown into something students look forward to doing each year,” said Keenan, who is working with the district’s athletic director to perform its show during halftime at next season’s basketball games.

To be part of winter guard, which practices three days a week after school at the AJHS gym, Keenan said students need a good attitude and be willing to learn.

“Some students know skills from fall guard, while others start spinning for the first time during the winter season. It does help to have a dance or music background, but it’s not required,” she said.

She said being somewhat athletic is an advantage, because of all the movement and equipment involved with the performances. To help students build up muscles and improve stamina needed for winter guard shows, a training program is available.

Winter guard offers several benefits for students — from getting them moving to promoting teamwork to learning how to work together and achieve a goal to teaching time management to promoting patience and discipline.

“Color guard can be hard to learn for some, so if you really love it, you work through the difficulties to get better. It also allows students to represent Agawam with pride all over New England,” said Keenan.

mlydick@thereminder.com | + posts