By B.C. Manion
They wave flags, spin rifles and keep in step as Betsy Koss, the color guard director at Sunlake High, shouts commands to the inaugural members of the winter guard team.
Meanwhile, percussionists bang on drums or tap on keyboards in band rooms — as part of Sunlake’s first indoor percussion team.
Both teams are part of the school’s band program.
While the programs are new to the school at 3023 Sunlake Blvd., some participants took part in the same programs at other schools, said Tonya O’Malley, Sunlake band director.
Twenty-one students are members of the indoor percussion ensemble and 14 students participate in winter guard.
Winter guard is “a lot like what they do in marching band, but it’s a competitive-style group. And, because it is just guard, there is more dance involved, more body movement. It’s very artistic,” O’Malley said. “It’s very similar to a dramatic type of production. They’re expected to design a show that is artistic, that reflects the music they select.”
Indoor percussion is competitive, too.
Both groups compete in the Florida Federation of Colorguards Circuit.
Sunlake hosted the first competition of the season for the winter guard in January and did so well its team was promoted from Class B to Class AAA, O’Malley said.
Sunlake students said having the programs at school makes it easier to take part.
Sixteen-year-old Jackie Ivancovich plays the marimba in the school’s indoor percussion ensemble. She’s pleased her school added the program because she used to travel to Land O’Lakes High for the program.
“It’s really convenient for us. I don’t have to find a ride,” she said.
She also thinks it’s great for students who normally play a different instrument to expand their repertoire.
She’s enthusiastic playing the marimba. “To be honest, I just fell in love with it. I love the sound.”
Fourteen-year-old Nonna Stutzman normally plays the flute. Now, she’s playing an instrument that has a set of metal bars that she strikes with a hammer.
“It’s new to learn and a different experience, but I like it,” she said.
Sara Lewis, also 14, said she enjoys being in the group, too. “It’s something to do after school and it’s really fun,” she said. “You learn a lot. You meet people.”
Sixteen-year-old Josh Vega and 17-year-old Madeline Varieur are both members of the drum line.
“I decided to take part in the program, mostly to improve as a musician and also learn a new instrument, which is the bass drum,” said Vega. He plays tuba in the school’s marching band and trombone in its jazz band.
He likes having another musical avenue to explore.
“It gives us a new outlet,” he said.
Varieur and Vega both expect their ensemble to do well in competitions.
“We have great clinicians that are world-class, so they’re leading us in the right direction,” said Varieur, who aspires to attend the University of Florida, where she wants to study to become a music director.
Sarah Mahan, 16, is the captain of the winter guard team.
“We’re such a new school, so it’s fantastic that we have it. It’s very rare that we have it,”
She thinks the group will fare well in competitions.
“We take pride in how competitive we are,” Mahan said.
Sixteen-year-old Sara Pickernell, the team’s co-captain, said she’s glad to have the chance to be active, make friends and have fun.
“It’s a break from school,” she said.
Adding both programs in one year would not have been possible without the school’s excellent staff, O’Malley said.
Koss, the color guard program’s director, and Valery Tyson, a color guard instructor, lead the winter guard. The indoor percussion ensemble is under the guidance of directors Joshua King and Michael Malgoza, O’Malley said. Parent volunteers also have been enormously helpful, the band director said.
At a time when some districts are cutting arts programs, O’Malley is delighted she can expand opportunities for her students.
Even though these programs are not part of the core curricula, they are vitally important to the students, O’Malley said.
“They’re maybe not going to pursue this in the future, but this is what excites them every day at school.
“I pull into the parking lot in the morning, and I’ve got like 20 or 30 kids waiting at my door, waiting to get in to the band room. During lunches, kids ask if they can have passes to come back to the band room, just to practice. They feel like that’s their home base.
“At the end of the school day, same thing. I’ve got to tell them to go home.
“It’s where they feel comfortable at our school. Without that, I think a lot of our kids would feel really lost. This is really their family at the school.”