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Winter Guard: Color Guard… but different.

“What is Winterguard? It’s just colorguard in the winter, right?”
Yes, at its core… but it is more complicated than that.   


Color Guards and military parades have a long history in Europe, this tradition has traveled all over the world and the United States is no exception. Early Drum & Bugles Corps grew from these parades. Many groups were started in conjunction with military social clubs like the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), to support the community during peacetime. Eventually, precision marching units with no instruments or equipment grew from these groups. These drill teams still performed with the drum corps, carrying flags during parades and formal events.  

By the late 1950 and early 1960s, drill teams began to carry the American Flag outside of their performance with the drum corps and groups started competing with one another during the summer on a football-sized field. These groups continued many of the precision marching routines from when they were a drill team.  

Color guard uses movement with flag that is choreographed with music

Drum corps also added more color guard to their groups, carrying not only the American Flag but also decorative flags to add color to their unit. Rifle and sabres lines were also added, primarily to protect the American Flag and perform drill referenced in the military manual of arms (an instruction book for handling and using weapons in formation). Eventually, these shows moved indoors with the first official winter guard competition taking place in a basement!   

Early winter guard performances had just rifles twirled in unison using a basic right-handed spin. These shows had no music with the only sounds coming from the boots and equipment hitting in perfect time. Eventually, the strict flag and dress code rules relaxed and in 1977 the Seattle Imperials set aside the boots for ballet slippers – ushering in a new era of color guard. That same year in San Francisco, Winter Guard International (WGI) was founded.  

Modern winter guard shows have changed a lot since those early days. Performances now blend costumes, movement, and dance choreography with show flagsmock-riflessabers, and other equipment for an entertaining, high-energy show. But unlike color guard, winter guard is performed indoors, typically in a gym or other indoor venues with stage props, tarps, and recorded music instead of a marching band or orchestra.   


WGI 2016 Champions Scholastic A Class Bellevue West

Winter guard groups often perform at judged competitions hosted by local and regional associations. such as the Winter Guard Association of Southern California (WGASC)South Florida Winter Guard Association (SFWGA)Mid East Performance Association (MEPA), and the Atlantic Indoor Association (AIA) using standards developed by WGI. Winter guard currently exists in several countries around the world with growing popularity in Asia, Africa, and South America.    

Most regions have scholastic guards in high schools, middle schools, and universities, along with independent organizations, some of which are related to drum corps. These groups are further broken up into division classes according to skill level:   

  • Regional A Class – Novice programs and performers  
  • A Class – Beginning programs and performers  
  • Open Class – The intermediate developmental level of performers  
  • World Class – The most advanced programs and performers  

The winter guard competitive season with WGI begins in February and finishes in April at the Color Guard World Championships. Training and other preparations, however, start well before those first regional shows. Show themes are often selected soon after the previous year’s final show with music, staging, choreography, and costumes developed during the summer months.  

Because custom winter guard uniforms can take up to 8 weeks to produce, and custom winter guard flags can take up to 6 weeks to produce, many groups begin the process of designing and ordering their winter guard uniforms in November.   


Color guard members use both a rifle and sabre as show props during their performances.

Winter guard aims to inspire members to achieve their highest athletic, artistic, and  

creative abilities while promoting the growth of performing arts. These groups encourage goodwill, sportsmanship, discipline, and camaraderie within the inclusive community and beyond.  

According to WGI’s website, “[…] there were more than 33,000 participants at the regional level and more than 16,000 participants at the Sport of the Arts World Championships” in 2019 alone with more than 160,000 spectators enjoying regional shows and World Championships annually.   

Winter Guard gives participants unique opportunities to teach and develop high school color guards, expand an individual’s performance skills, and help students avoid having to choose between the musical elements of marching band or performing with the color guard. Additionally, many winter guard organizations give internship opportunities and promote higher education by annually awarding academic scholarships to students.   

Students learn to network with other participants throughout the world, begin lifelong friendships, find joy through performance, and create memories that last a lifetime.

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