Friday, April 12, 2024

Belding winterguard performs for first time since 2015 at home expo

Belding winterguard team members perform at the inaugural Belding Black Knights Winterguard Expo on Saturday held at Belding High School. The team competed for the first time since 2015 after the program was revived this year. — DN Photo | Cory Smith

BELDING — As a freshman this past fall in the Belding marching band, Jamison Abbey, 14, did his best to march and perform on the trumpet with the rest of his peers, working to improve and add something new to their performance each day.

However, during one of the band’s rehearsals, Abbey found himself not practicing music or working on his marching skills, but instead conversing with members of the band’s color guard.

It was at that moment when an opportunity he didn’t expect came forward as color guard member, junior Izzy Summers, 16, provided Abbey with the opportunity to set down his trumpet and pick up a rifle.

“I’m going to be honest, there was a time during marching band where we were just dinking around and Izzy let me use a rifle for a second,” he recalled.


Abbey said despite the initial inclination to goof around with the color guard instrument, he enjoyed the experience so much that he secured his own rifle to work with the next day.

“I just thought it was great and my mom, she also thought I was pretty good,” he said.

Months later, when it was announced that the high school would be putting together a winterguard team for the first time since 2015, Abbey jumped at the opportunity to participate.

“At first it was really uncomfortable because I was around a lot of people I didn’t really know — these weren’t trumpet players,” he said. “It was hard getting adjusted. My head was telling me I wasn’t welcome.”

However, it didn’t take long before Abbey realized he had found a group of students who didn’t want to push him to the side, but rather, welcomed him with open arms.

“Now I feel like I’m welcomed and I know I am welcomed on this team,” he said. “This group of people, they are very nice to me. I’ve come to really enjoy this. It’s really fun and I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t enjoying it. Now the thought of being around this group of people, who enjoy your presence, who enjoy you being there, knowing that you are healthy and OK and doing these things that you enjoy to do … That’s why I plan to keep coming back.”

Abbey, Summers and the 17 members of the Belding Black Knights Winterguard team showed just how far they had come in a few short months by participating Saturday in the inaugural Belding Black Knights Winterguard Expo, which welcomed 20 winterguard programs from throughout the state, competing in a number of divisions.

Despite having been nearly a decade since Belding last fielded a winterguard team, the team saw itself place fourth out of eight teams competing in the Scholastic Regional A division with a score of 65.650.

“I think we did great, overall, as a team,” Summers said. “I’m sure there were some individual things that need to be worked on, but mainly, I think we just need to work on having more confidence when we are out there.”

“I feel like a lot of people felt they didn’t do as well as they had hoped, but personally, I think we did pretty good considering everything we’ve been working through,” Abbey added. “Our last practice, following a bit of a break, it wasn’t a great practice, but today, I think everyone got their stuff together and we were on top of it.”

The team performed its show, entitled “Vampire,” which featured the two boys on the team dressed as vampires while the girls wore red and black Victorian dresses who had been “turned” by the vampires and sought revenge while performing to the song “Vampire” by Olivia Rodrigo. 

For the team’s director, Don Showich, deciding to restore a program after an eight-year absence served as a significant endeavor to bring to fruition; however, thanks to the commitment of the students, he said it didn’t take much to bring the program back.

“We tripled the size of the color guard in the marching band in the fall,” he said. “When they found out there was going to be a winterguard team, many of them began talking to friends to join. We have some guard members who took a break this winter, but we also have some trumpet players, flute players, who wanted to try something new.”

The other benefit leaning in Belding’s favor in the attempt to revive the winterguard program was Showich’s experience.

Showich was hired as the Belding Middle School band director in September of 2022; however, he has been involved in the MCGC since 1999 and has worked with the Belding marching band program for many years.

“I know what I got out of MCGC and I’ve stuck around this long — I’ve tried to retire three times — but I think it’s important for the kids to have something to do,” he said. “Not everyone is an athlete, not everyone is in theater, so having some avenue to be involved in a school activity, that’s important.”

Providing that additional opportunity to perform this year was welcoming news to students such as Summers.

“I’ve spun since my freshman year, I even quit dance so I could stay in band and color guard,” she said. “I fell in love with guard my freshman year. It’s something I felt like I was actually good at. Now I like spinning year round.”

Performing in front of a home audience for the first time, however, proved to be a greater challenge than either Summers or Abbey expected.

“I think there was added pressure — A lot of people came to see us today,” Summers said. “When there’s a home show, the community wants to come and watch — I felt like everybody was watching — which was scary. It just adds to the pressure.”

“It puts a lot of pressure on you,” Abbey added. “I was really nervous because my whole family was here. For a lot of us, I think we felt the same way. We’ve never had a winterguard invitational here in Belding, so there was a lot of pressure. But you don’t think, you just do it.”

As for the expo itself, Showich said he suggested the high school attempt to serve as a host after the Michigan Competing Bands Association made a decision to remove Belding as a host school for its annual marching invitational after it reviewed the logistics of Rudness Field, determining it could not accommodate larger ensembles.

As the Belding Marching Band Invitational has traditionally served as the high school band program’s largest annual fundraiser, Showich said he felt a winterguard expo could help earn back some of those lost funds.

“With us not hosting a marching band competition we were looking for revenue,” he said. “I said, we have the perfect gym for a winterguard show, but to host a show, we’ve got to have a winterguard. So we decided that we would field a team again so we could perform in our awesome facilities.”

Belding High School Band Director Ryan Ryble applauded Showich’s efforts to not only help bring a new fundraising opportunity to the band program, but for bringing a new outlet for students to enjoy as well.

“I blame Don for all of it,” he said with a laugh. “This is a wonderful opportunity for our students to try something new and about a third of these students had never done guard work before. That kind of revived the program.

“For many of these kids, this is their passion,” he continued. “They are performing, whether it’s on an instrument in band or some sort of guard equipment today. But it’s also taught them a lot of life lessons, like time management. Many of these students are involved in athletics or things like the school musical. For some of them, balancing that with homework and trying to eat, sleep and everything else, it’s been an experience of responsibility.”

As for the team’s performance on the day, Showich said it was the first time his students had performed the entirety of their show in front of an audience this season.

“I was really pleased with their performance,” he said. “I changed about 15 things on them this morning in rehearsal, so it was their first time working with those changes and I thought they handled it really well. It’s only a three-and-a-half minute show, but it feels like you are out there forever and the kids just work really hard.”

Showich admitted that he found aspects of Saturday’s performance that left him cheering out loud.

“There are certain moments of the show, when the kids nail it, you might hear me screaming,” he said with a laugh. “I saw some of those moments today. For example, our saber soloists, when they nailed that and the other kids on the floor saw that, they fed off of that energy. And the crowd has been great. Even if it’s not their kids on the floor, everyone has been super supportive and you don’t always see that.”

Showich said the team will continue competing through the remainder of the season until it culminates with the state finals on April 6 at Western Michigan University.

Belding Black Knights 

Winterguard Expo 2024

Scholastic Regional A

1. Rockford JV, 71.590 

2. Hartland, 70.190 

3. GR Catholic, 65.990 

4. Belding Black Knights Color Guard— 65.650

5. Reeths-Puffer JV, 61.780 

6. Ionia, 56.160 

7. Sempiterna: Divine Child, 56.020 

8. Wayland, 53.930

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