By Jenny Lyons
“Often, WGI is referenced as a family. Tonight is our 40th family reunion. Ladies and Gentleman– let’s begin the Parade of Champions…”
The announcer’s voice cut through the rumble of the finals night crowd. Awash in the glow of the spotlight, the flash of cameras, and the bustle of the arena, WGI’s past and present collided in this “family reunion.” In celebration of its ruby anniversary, the Sport of the Arts presented an impressive display of its 40 year history in the form of a Parade of Champions. This gorgeous transgenerational display was the handiwork of Bart Woodley and Rosie Miller Queen of WGI and an impressively curated reverie of the shows that have graced the WGI stage.
At the beginning of color guard World Class Retreat, representatives spanning four decades of pageantry filed in with current finalists in full costume regalia. Decked in uniforms from every era, representatives from the twelve high school and sixteen independent guards that have earned the esteemed title of WGI Champions donned original uniforms from their winning years. Though the costumes were a fun way to look into the past, with styles that spanned the funkiness of the 80’s, the familiar vibrancy of the 90’s, and the sleek modernity we see today, and included iconic uniforms from favorite shows, the Parade of Champions was about more than the extravaganza of fashion and design that flooded the floor.
This parade brought together generations of performers, all of whom shared the ever-present dream of becoming World Champions. It was a striking union of WGI’s proud past and bright future, with past champions leading in today’s finalists, as many of them literally do today as leaders within activity. Many of those who ushered in the parade representing their respective years are familiar names–instructors, designers, judges, and advocates–all who have stepped beyond the pedestal of championship to give back to the activity that shaped them, eager to pass the torch to the next generation of performers.
While the event was a literal family reunion for some, with several mother-daughter connections between past champions and current finalists, most strikingly, this parade brought together dreams from every generation of WGI: from those who started it all in 1978 to the newly minted champions of 2017. So many of those represented in the parade were performers who inspired the next generation with their impassioned performances and iconic excellence. Subsequently, those who were so inspired that they made their way to the top of the 2017 season, inspired a whole new generation of dreamers that finals night. In this way, the WGI dream lives on, building upon the shoulders of those who came before.
Among the champions of WGI past who graced the Dayton Arena was Wanda Conway, a member of WGI’s flagship champion: Quasar, who won the very first WGI title in 1978. Conway walked out current finalist, Juxtaposition. “It’s kind of surreal” Wanda says of walking in the Parade of Champions, “I can’t believe it’s been that long ago already.”
As a long time instructor and judge, Conway is still deeply rooted in the activity. She is a close friend of many of WGI’s Hall of Fame members and continues to watch the activity grow. Like so many in the WGI family, she remains firmly in love with the connections that this activity brings. Though many new faces have joined the throng over the past four decades, there are so many familiar faces who remain. Beyond those she knows personally, Wanda says of WGI’s performers, past and present: “We have this bond. We have something in common that most people don’t understand…there’s nothing like it.”
Despite the time that has passed, these connections remain the same. “The skill set might be different, but it doesn’t matter. We share that kind of bond.” Wanda was excited to walk in with present finalist, Juxtaposition, confident that the commonality of the activity would transcend the years that stood between them.
“These things are timeless,” she says.
It is this timelessness that was so apparent in the parade, with the light of 40 years of excellence illuminating the bright future of the activity. Of the impressive display that was the 2017 edition of Parade of Champions, the announcer’s voice fittingly boomed over the arena:
“Before you now is an amazing display of the past and the future of WGI. This proves that the legacy of WGI has only just begun. Happy 40th Anniversary, WGI!”
About the Author: Jenny Lyons is a freelance writer and graduate of the Literary Journalism program at the University of California, Irvine. She is particularly enamored with nonfiction writing, archival research and reporting, as well as editing. She is a recent alumna of WGI, having performed with the Santa Clara Vanguard Winter Guard from 2013 to 2015. Jenny has also marched with several drum corps including Pacific Crest, The Academy, and the Santa Clara Vanguard. When she is not writing, Jenny can be found continuing her passion for color guard through teaching.