Friends Are Friends Forever
by Shelba Waldron
It has officially been 20 years since I sat in the Dayton arena at the World Championships and listened as a hush went over the crowd in memory of two girls who lost their lives doing exactly what they loved; color guard. They were returning with their guard from the Mideast regional, when the van they were travelling in was involved in a fatal accident killing two and physically injuring three, but emotionally injuring all performers. The guard was McGavock High School and the date was March 13, 1988. We didn?t have cell phones or the internet back then, but news rippled quickly throughout the winter guard community and within hours, everyone knew. It was one of those moments in life that forces you to stop what you are doing and evaluate what is really important. To me, it?s not hard to figure out. It?s friendship and most specifically it?s the friendships and memories we make as we travel on our journey from one colorguard season to another.
I was on that trip. I was a senior at McGavock and on the sabre line. I, along with the rest of my teammates had dreams of walking on the Dayton floor for finals. We were Scholastic A that year and believed we were invincible. We went through what every guard goes through at some point and time. We loved each other, we hated each other, we competed with each other, and formed cliques. We never really had any stellar shows going into Mideast and the tension between staff and members was growing. As we prepared for our one and only regional it became increasingly clear how we must do a good show at Mideast if we had any chance of making finals in Dayton. The day came. March 12. We performed prelims. It was o.k., and good enough to land us in finals. However, it wasn?t good enough for our instructor, David Baker. He knew we could do better and expected it from us. Making finals wasn?t good enough. He wanted to leave Ohio knowing that we exceeded our own performance expectations. Finals came, and it was one of those shows where the energy on the floor grew at every passing count. We knew it and could feel the excitement building on the floor. We knew that we were good that night. We didn?t need a judge to tell us that. After we left the floor, there was dancing in the halls, hugging, and screaming. We were ready for nationals. We ended up 3rd and were elated. Preparation for WGI championships was going to be exciting.
Needless to say, preparation for WGI finals never happened. Our season ended that day on I-65 and we would never walk out of the tunnel in Dayton together. We would never know how good we could have been, as our equipment lay unclaimed on the lawn outside the band room. Instead, we attended funerals and prayed for the injured. Two weeks later we prepared for the SCGC championships which were held at our school. We made posters, set up the concession stand and did everything a school does in preparation for hosting a show. We didn?t perform in it, however. We started the season with 19 and there was no way we were performing without the entire 19. Instead, we stood on the floor at the end of the night, holding hands, while they played the opening music of our show for the audience. Anyone who was in the packed gym that night, could feel the love of the person next to them, the person across from them, and the love of those heartbroken performers standing in front of them. Performers, parents, staff members, and judges all stood together as one to not just honor our fallen teammates, but to also honor the love and friendships that colorguard brings to our lives. While standing on the floor staring at the audience, we held to each other like there was no one more important and no other moment more powerful. We had grown up in an instant and knew what many adults didn?t. It was about us. It was about fleeting moments of life.
I have spent a long time wondering what it was all for. I have spent 20 years searching for answers. With every guard I teach and every count I clean, I search for answers. Every time I speak into a tape recorder, I search for answers. The answer nonetheless is simple. It?s about the love we have for one another, regardless of what our role in this wondrous activity is. At the Nashville regional this past February, I saw many of the members of that 1988 McGavock winter guard in the stands. One of them in particular was sitting at the top with one of my favorite new friends, and as I looked at them from across the gym I saw my two worlds merge. My past had met up with my present and there was an overwhelming sense of warmth that overcame me.
On March 12, 1988, a group of kids stood in front of judges and fans and performed their last performance together. We had no idea it would be the last, though. We left the best show of our season on the floor that night and I personally have no regrets. We have all moved on and grown into adults nearing middle age. Many of us are still teaching. We see each other at WGI regionals and in Dayton. We rarely talk about the day on March 13, but we all know that it?s still there and still a part of our souls. As an instructor, I can?t imagine what it must have been like for the staff at McGavock High School to deal with the death of a performer. I saw David Baker in Dayton a couple of years ago and thanked him for everything that he did for us. He was an inspiration that is carried into my own rehearsals today. When my performers start fighting or become apathetic, I tell the story. I tell them that today is a gift. Spin that flag, like there is no tomorrow. At shows they are told to love every single second they are on the floor and to love each other, because change is constant and change is unexpected.
I have walked through the Dayton tunnel many times, but for me it?s always a precious gift. I say a prayer and thank God for giving me one more chance to walk through the tunnel and I say to the kids to look at the audience and value this priceless moment and value the love. For many of us from McGavock, color guard is a lot more than just ?guns in a gym.? It?s a chance to teach others to live for the day and that the friends we make to today will be friends for life. I don?t have a video of our Mideast performance, but the memory of that finals performance on March 12 will stay with me forever and I am for that I am forever grateful.