First-year winter guard group wins championship

The Shenandoah Valley winter guard, composed of Warren County and Skyline high school students, celebrate their championship win in the Keystone Indoor Drill Association's bronze classification on April 2. From left are Ale Carino, Amanda Weatherholt, Madelynn Burke, Maddy Kurtz, Hayley Barrientez, Scott Ruybalid, Alex Riley, Carmody Maddox, Emma Ontiveros, Justin Bigwood, Ashlynn Trenary and Chase Matchett. Photo courtesy of Ben Lombardo

Students on the combined winter guard team for Warren County high schools had plenty of cause for celebration when they took home a championship win from Keystone Indoor Drill Association last weekend.

Shenandoah Valley winter guard began its first season of competition earlier this year, composed of 11 students from both Warren County and Skyline high schools. They entered into the association’s bronze classification for first-year groups and competed on Saturdays at high schools in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Maryland.

Band director Ben Lombardo said he accompanied the group and instructor Doug Owens to the championships on April 2 in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. He said the winter guard had a great break out year at association competitions.

“We really enjoyed the circuit and the judges had a lot of positive feedback for us the whole time – they’ve said that they can’t wait to see us next year,” he said.

The group took home first place wins in the bronze class for first year groups at every competition but their first. Lombardo and Owens said that the group could’ve been competitive in the next-level gold class – and could’ve even placed at championships, judging by the score recaps.

Championships divided nearly 60 participating groups into classes based on skill level, and Lombardo said the group stuck around on Saturday to watch the highly competitive upper classes.

“We stayed for the whole day, we didn’t leave after the awards ceremony,” he said. “They got to watch every team come in … and they got to see what they could be capable of.”

Owens said the students’ excitement and pride in their win was contagious.

“The kids have fallen in love with winter guard and it was really a nice feeling to know that they’ve fallen in love with something so new … it was a wonderful experience for everybody,” he said.

Lombardo said he’s hoping for a group at least the same size as this team for next winter, despite three graduating seniors. That process starts with recruiting members of the color guard in the marching band for the summer and fall. He said he’s also removed the requirement that all marching band members must play an instrument so that non-musicians can join.

Owens said the members have done their part for recruitment by setting up a table at school to explain to other students what they do, using videos of their championship performance. He said they’re also trying to showcase their hard work during the season by setting up a free friends and family performance.

All in all, Lombardo said the group learned a lot in the way of teamwork, the competition circuit and how high they can reach as an expressive performing group.

“It was a really great way to end the season and I’m just extremely proud of that team and how hard they worked,” he said.

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or