Spin it to win it

Skyline winter guard members Chase Matchett, 17, left, Amanda Weatherholt, 18, right, sit on a park bench while other winter guard members perform around them during a recent practice at A.S. Rhodes Elementary School in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – Members of the new Skyline winter guard are spinning into their first year of competition with the confidence of first place wins at their backs.

Ben Lombardo started directing Skyline High School’s band this school year and said he immediately knew he wanted to grow the program. He said 2015 was the first year the school’s marching band had competed in eight years, entering them into the Tournament of Bands competitive circuit.

Forming an indoor winter guard group was another step in building that portion of the ensemble. During the fall, the color guard accompanies the band as a visual component but stands on its own as a winter guard. Lombardo met instructor Doug Owens, who had taught winter guard groups around the country, through a band parent.

Skyline winter guard has 11 members from both high schools in Warren County. Lombardo said that within the next few years, he hopes to grow the guard to around 20 members and Skyline’s band to around 80 members.

“With competitions, we push ourselves to that next level,” he said. “I want kids to take pride in what they do, know that they’re part of the team – and we’re creating memories, too.”

Maddy Kurtz, 17, of Front Royal, prepares to catch her rifle at the Skyline High School winter guard's rehearsal. Rich Cooley/Daily

Said Owens, “It’s one thing to go out and play a football game every Friday, but then to be performing and to win … it’s really neat.”

As a first year group, Skyline’s winter guard has competed in Keystone Indoor Drill Association’s Bronze division and taken home two first place wins from three competitions. They would compete in the Gold division next year, and Owens said judges have said they’d already do well in the next level.

“I’ve had a lot of good feedback,” he said. “I think the kids have had so much fun doing this.”

The group’s debut performance is called “Homelessness and the Light of Hope,” using Bette Midler’s “The Rose” as the accompanying song.

Lombardo said he put part of his band budget into starting the group off with equipment. Clear Channel Outdoor donated billboard signs to make into a tarp for the performances, and Owens said parents contributed fabric for the group’s flags.

Ashlynn Trenary, 17, of Front Royal, rehearses at Skyline High School Winter Guard practice. Rich Cooley/Daily

The group rehearses three days a week in a school gym that isn’t being used for team practices. Lombardo said that Skyline principal Michael Smith and other school staff have been supportive of the new winter guard.

For Saturday competitions, the group takes a school bus to schools in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. There, Owens said they make friends with groups from other schools and take inspiration from groups that perform in higher divisions.

“They go to their very first competition and there’s probably 20 groups or so that they get to see afterwards, and then they’re like, ‘Wow, we could be that good,'” he said.

Skyline senior Ashlynn Trenary said she’s marched since eighth grade, but had never heard about winter guard until joining the new group.

“I like this more than I like marching season because there’s so much emotion in it and … it’s very passionate,” she said.

Amanda Weatherholt, 18, rehearses a flag section at winter guard practics. Rich Cooley/Daily

Lombardo said the group has one more competition before championships in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, on April 2. He and Owens are already planning the fall marching band show, and Owens said he’s already given the winter guard hints of a possible 2017 show.

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com

Alex Riley, 14, of Linden, is framed by a pair of flags during practice. Rich Cooley/Daily