Alaina in flag practice

Alaina Youngstrom and the team run through the routine one last time in a practice room just down the hall from the gym. A winter guard from another school practices behind them. (Photo by Steve Bowman)

By Steve Bowman
Editor, The Brentwood Spirit

Well I’ve been afraid of changing
‘Cause I’ve built my life around you
But time makes you bolder, children get older
I’m getting older too
—Stevie Nicks

Brentwood High School Winter Guard director Kate Anthony didn’t have to worry whether her team would bring intensity and emotion to their final performance of the season. As the 10 costumed girls walked single file down a long hallway that led to the gym where they’d make their final performance on Saturday, Anthony saw that several of them had moist eyes.

Serious, expressionless faces but moist eyes. Intensity and emotion, right there.

But did they have enough? This was the biggest event of the year, the Mid-Continent Color Guard Association Championships, held in a monstrous gym at Willard High School near Springfield, Mo. They’d be in front of thousands of people, all but a handful of whom were rooting for other teams. Larger teams. Class 2 Brentwood was up against eight schools, seven of which are bigger, including three Class 5’s and a Class 4.

Alaina, Amy, Mary hug

Seniors Alaina Youngstrom (left), Amy Lee (center) and Mary Hager embrace immediately following their final performance. (Photo by Steve Bowman)

Ten minutes later the season was over. The performance was almost flawless as they danced with flags and rifles to their song, a composite of “Ave Maria” by cellist Yo-Yo Ma and singer Bobby McFerrin and an a cappella version of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” sung by The Backbeats.

Everything was over but the waiting − Brentwood wouldn’t find out how they’d done until the awards ceremony three hours later. But they all seemed to have a good feeling about how it would turn out. After the performance they left the gym and met back at their assigned place in a hallway. Half of the team seemed to be crying now, not just the seniors and Anthony but underclassmen as well. Even a few friends and relatives shed some tears as they caught up to the girls to tell them how they’d nailed the routine.

Anthony helps Hager

Director Kate Anthony applies finishing touches to Mary Hager before the performance. (Photo by Steve Bowman)

“I was a little shaky [emotionally] going into it,” said senior Amy Lee, “but there’s a part in the routine where Alaina [Youngstrom, a senior] and I both throw a double on the flag and we look at each other right before we throw it. The second she looked at me we both lost it. I walked off the floor crying.”

Said Anthony, “The girls came in, were really relaxed, really focused and I think they were ready to leave everything out on the floor.”

Senior Mary Hager certainly did.

blue flags in air

The white flags are down and the blue flags are up during Brentwood’s routine. (Photo by Steve Bowman)

“I think I was kind of ready for it to be my last one,” she said. “It was just a good place to stop. I’ll miss it but probably not until next winter. You need a break between seasons.”

A few hours after the performance, all 41 of the winter guard units from four of the 10 divisions paraded onto the floor and the winners were announced in each division. Sure enough, Brentwood won first place for the first time ever. They’re state champs. They scored 81.45 points, 8.6 ahead of second-place Marionville.

Brentwood was all smiles during their performance. (Photo by Steve Bowman)

“The score is about what we had last week, but it was 9 points above the group below us, which is significant,” said Anthony. “I could not have asked for more. They were fantastic. The girls have worked so hard all season knowing that this is kind of the culmination of everything they’ve done. They really pushed through to the end, so everybody can leave today knowing they gave everything they could.”

As a bonus, the MCCGA singled out Lee to receive a college scholarship. She plans to attend Missouri State University.

Four months ago when the season began, Anthony had her doubts about this team. Though it had four experienced seniors, the remaining eight students had never before touched a flag or a rifle.

BHS Winter Guard alum Stephanie Surgener gets in on a group hug after the final performance. Surgener worked with the group early in the season. Other assistants included Jordan Anthony, Julie Merz, Chris Putnam and Cindy Schmidt. (Photo by Steve Bowman)

“I wasn’t sure at the beginning,” Anthony now admits. “We had only four returning members and we had eighth-graders and some freshmen. It was a very, very young guard. So we knew it could go either way; either they’d step up to the challenge or you’d see that difference in age.”

On top of it all, the BHS guard had done so well last year that they’d been moved up to a tougher division. So after placing second in the championships in 2009 and 2010, they were put in a better division in the middle of last season and placed fifth at the big dance last March.

The BHS Winter Guard proudly exhibit their stuffed animals. They are identified from left to right. Front: senior Amy Lee, eighth-graders Torri Brotherton and Kelly Zygmunt, and seniors Mary Hager and Alaina Youngstrom. Back: sophomore Cierra Lucas, junior Mariah Logan, eighth-grader Abby Lawrence, senior Alice Richter and freshman Gabrielle Zoellner. (Photo by Steve Bowman)

But there were signs that this season might be special. The seniors were so eager to start that they convinced Anthony to begin practices a week earlier. And how about those four seniors? Youngstrom was in her fifth year on the team, having started in eighth grade. Lee and Mary Hager were in their fourth year. Alice Richter, an experienced dancer, had one season under her belt.

Also, Anthony announced that this would be her last season leading the team. She and her husband will be moving to the Kansas City area to be closer to her parents.

After the awards ceremony, BHS Winter Guard members show off their medals and the costume items they received as gifts from their director. They’re identified from left to right. Front: Alice Richter, Gabrielle Zoellner, Mariah Logan and Kelly Zygmunt. Back: director Kate Anthony, Amy Lee, Alaina Youngstrom, Mary Hager, Cierra Lucas, Torri Brotherton and Abby Lawrence. (Photo by Steve Bowman)

“I do think today was more emotionally moving than it has been all year,” Anthony said. “I’m moving away so it’s kind of my transition. The words of the song [“Landslide”] talk about how you’ve built your life around someone else and so now as everyone is getting older you’re transitioning on to this new step in your life.”

In a couple of months Youngstrom, a senior, will be experiencing a different kind of transition. But as she walked off the gym floor after the awards were announced, she was quietly savoring this moment. Asked if she had a feeling several months ago that this guard might do something special, she quietly said, “Yeah. From the beginning it was the perfect group.”

Then her voice broke slightly with emotion as she smiled and almost whispered, “It was perfect.”

Not all of Brentwood’s routine involved flags and rifles. (Photo by Steve Bowman)

Winter guard members practiced several times a week for months in order to precisely time their rifle throws. (Photo by Steve Bowman)

Scores – MCCGA Winter Guard Championships

Winter Guard Regional A Round 3 Division
1. Brentwood, 81.45 points
2. Marionville, 72.85
3. Neosho, 71.4
4. Staley, 70.4
5. Fort Zumwalt South, 69.6
6. Reeds Spring, 67.45
7. Lathrop, 60.25
8. Lawson, 58.2
9. Liberty North, 57.9

The Brentwood Winter Guard waits in line to enter a practice room before their performance. They are (from left) Mary Hager, Gabrielle Zoellner, Abby Lawrence, Amy Lee, Torri Brotherton, Alaina Youngstrom, Kelly Zygmunt, Cierra Lucas, Mariah Logan and Alice Richter. (Photo by Steve Bowman)

More detailed results are on the MCCGA’s website: http://www.mccga.org/index.htm