Some might say it’s been a journey three years in the making, while others might feel the magic was there all along.
For the members and coaches of the Oakdale Junior High Colorguard and Oakdale High Winter Guard, however, regardless of what many might think, they are individually and collectively excited.
It has been three years since the two teams separated from one guard team, to two independent of one another and the years of commitment are now proving fruitful.
Earlier this month both teams earned a First Place at the Central Valley Guard and Percussion Circuit Competition.
“It’s exciting,” longtime Oakdale Junior High Coach Danesa Menge shared of the team’s win.
“We took a while here and some of that was just the growing pains,” OHS Music Director Ross McGinnis shared of the Winter Guard. “We’re having an actual good year and it started with momentum we created in the fall.”
The OJHS team currently has 16 members, while McGinnis estimates OHS has approximately 21 members. A number which took time to build, when the team broke off to two. According to McGinnis the OHS team consisted of three members when it became independent three years ago.
Last year, midway through the season, the OHS team encountered yet another setback when they lost their coach due to time constraints.
“Then Cassie, as a student, kind of had to take that over,” McGinnis shared of current Coach Cassie Calvin, who was then a senior. “She didn’t ask for that, but they all kind of realized as a team, somebody has to lead us.”
And lead she did, with the help of some others as well as assistant coach and OHS alum Taylor Nordello, who assists with coaching the OJHS team, as well as the OHS team.
“Their attitudes are pretty good. They’re really helping each other,” Nordello said of the OJHS team. “The older kids are helping the younger kids really grow into themselves and the younger kids are helping the older kids grow into themselves also.”
Nordello began with Colorguard as an OJHS seventh grader and continued through her graduating year in 2018. She now enjoys giving back to the teams which gave her so much.
“It’s different. It’s new,” she said of first joining in junior high. “Not everybody knows exactly what it is. When they come and try it out they’re either going to fall in love with it or realize maybe this isn’t my thing.”
Unlike the OHS team, the OJHS team has maintained success through the transition. A fact attributed not just to a seasoned leader in Menge, but a consistency in an assistant coaching staff of alums.
“I think Colorguard is just a band of misfits in general,” junior high assistant coach Claudia Vargas said. “We weren’t made like others (high school guards) built around the arts, we’re still considered a club.”
“Competitions are always big because it gives us insight on what we need to do better,” Menge said of both the team and the coaches, noting that the junior high guard experience is where they fine tune the basics. “The kids this year have really done their jobs.”
Now as they have progressed to the OHS team and are under solid leadership, the fruits of everyone’s labor seem to be in full bloom.
“To see it grow from Colorguard being made fun of at the high school, to Colorguard part of football and what the school is now is awesome,” Menge said. “It’s changed a lot and that’s satisfying.”
As the Music Director of OHS, McGinnis concurs with that sentiment. He pointed to the commitment by the district, site administration, parents and students as integral parts to the program success.
“They know how to run themselves in a manner that has integrity, they respect everybody coming in because they respect each other,” McGinnis said of the team.
McGinnis shared that while the team began on a rough path three years ago, he would not change a thing, adding that he believes the experiences have shaped the team to be the winning team that it is today.
“Everybody knows how to lead and everybody knows how to follow,” he said.
“It is special and it is family, it’s lifelong,” Menge concluded of the guard bond. “You spend so much time with each other. It’s really fun to watch the kids come into their own, but the confidence is probably the biggest one for everyone.”