The pageantry of the military in the days of old in Europe and North America as they exhibited in parades and reviews, dressed in their uniforms are the roots of the color guard in the United States today.
Color guards in the United States were originally veterans from the wars and were in parades and memorial celebrations. They were always part of the military. As time progressed, women joined the services as nurses and aids during the war and also joined organizations that were active when the country was not at war. An example would be the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR).
The major organizations were the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and each community had “posts” were the veterans could join and be with other veterans in a time of peace. While being social was very important many of the American Legion and VFW posts were active in the communities helping needy families and helping the community overall. Many music organizations were sponsored by the community posts and the veterans were the people that organized the group and instructed the youth members. Most of these music organizations were drum and bugle corps.
On the east coast, besides the American Legion and VFW posts, the community churches also sponsored drum and bugle corps for their membership. These “corps” were instructed by the veterans who had military and marching experience. In the midwest, south, and west the drum and bugle corps were community-based through the American Legion and VFW posts.
In conjunction with the drum & bugle corps, they formed drill teams which were precision marching units and carried no instruments or equipment. This type of drill team is still very popular in Australia which has hundreds of drill teams that perform year-round.
In the United States, the drill teams also performed with the drum corps sometimes and that is when they carried the American Flag in a parade. There are strict rules you have to follow when marching with an American Flag and that includes guards as well as the protocol to follow in case you are also marching a state flag or even flags from other countries.
In the late 1950s early 60’s the drill teams began to carry the American Flag outside of their performance with the drum corps and in time began competing with one another in competitions. These competitions were during the summer months, on a football-sized field, and still had many of the precision marching routines from when they were a drill team. As time progressed they began carrying rifles to protect the American Flag and many times added other flags more than just the state flag. Many units had military themes to their organization and carried flags that were symbols of that branch of the military.
All of the competitions were in association with other pageantry events that happened with the American Legion, VFW, or the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO). These organizations sponsored local competitions for the veterans who were still marching with their old platoons or post and also competitions for the youth and their groups. The competitions were local and then each state had a state convention. Once a year there was a national convention and there would be meetings as well as the pageantry and competitions.
In the late ’50s, early 60’s the drum corps added more color guard to their groups and they not only carried the American Flag with the appropriate guards but they also had flags to add color to their unit. Rifle lines were added but primarily to protect the American Flag and perform a military manual of arms.
During the mid-’60s color guards on the field in the competition started experimenting with more flags and breaking the rifles away from the American Flag to perform the manual of arms. Flags started to move a little, mostly up and down but never to spin.
By the late ’60s color guards were spinning rifles, mostly single right-hand spins in unison. The guards performed prerequisites such as “Pass in Review”, “Posting of Color” “Manual of arms”
Color guards started performing indoors on the east and midwest in the early ’60s and in the south and west in the late ’60s.
Northern California had a color guard association and they had their first show indoors in 1968 or 1969. Southern California had its first show and only show in 1970. When we wanted to compete we had to travel to Northern California for competitions. In 1971 we had 2 shows in Southern California but still traveled to Northern California about 4 times a year to compete. In 1972 we were up to 3 shows and decided it was time to stop traveling to Northern California all of the time.
In the fall of 1972, a group of 9-10 people got together at the Westminster Civic Center and agreed to form a color guard circuit in Southern California.
- Don Porter – Royal Regiment
- Bernice Porter – Royal Regiment
- Russ Campbell – California Cavalry
- R. Neil Payne – California Cavalry
- Noreen Kompleski – California Cavalry
- Joe Schroeffer – Americanettes
- Janine Schroeffer – Americanettes
- Karen Smith – First President of the Circuit
- Suzie Elliott – Kingsmen
- Ronnie Harn – Diplomats
The circuit was formed and the first competitive season was 1973 with 2 classes A & B. All the guards were independent and there were probably about 10 guards. This was the first year that there were a circuit championships in Southern California and the only reason you traveled to Northern California was for the fun of competition, not out of necessity.
Winter guard shows were without music. The only sounds were from the boots and equipment hitting in time. Music was introduced in Southern California in 1974 by the California Cavalry color guard. Music was introduced in the rest of the country just the year prior, 1973. In the beginning, if you had music you brought your own sound system to play. Most groups used reel to reel tape players. As time went on it was noticeable when someone had a good sound system and others did not. On occasion people with good systems offered to play your music for you for a small fee -$5.
Guard shows still had the requirements, you had to start on a starting line and cross the exit line. They were on opposite ends of the floor and we would now call them to stage right and stage left. During your performance, you had to fulfill the requirements and most of the creativity you displayed was trying to figure out how to get from one requirement to the next different from your competitors. The requirements were Pass in Review, Posting, and retrieving of the colors, Manual of Arms. As time progressed we relaxed the rules and by 1974 you only had to do 2 of the requirements. Everyone still had an American Flag Section and your drill was centered around the American Flag many times, especially during the “requirements” In the late 70’s all of the requirements were gone and within a season or so, so was the requirement to even march with the American Flag during the competition.
In 1977 we saw the first color guard (Seattle Imperials) that was not wearing boots but instead ballet slippers. Stanley Knaub was from Southern California and went to Lakewood High School where he marched in the band. Stanley is the first designer and instructor to put dance on the floor instead of only marching. By 1980 many groups were out of boots and out of their military cadet jackets and starting to wear movable clothing.
Up until 1982, the judges were members of the American Legion judges association. Some of the people were from the military but many of them were former students and performers from groups in Southern California. In 1982 the circuit instructors got together and decided they needed to improve the judging in Southern California, they banned together and made agreements as to how they could achieve this.
In the past the judges usually had little or no current background in the color guard activity and many instructors were becoming frustrated by this. The instructors decided to all become judges themselves. They would train and learn how to judge, make tapes with the type of dialog they wanted to hear, and practice scoring units based on their knowledge of color guards around the country. This type of trust worked well for the circuit. If an instructor let their guard take the weekend off, they would judge and other instructors did the same thing.
In 1982 the circuit was struggling with a low membership and lack of interest in judging. By the beginning of 1984, the group of instructors had worked hard to define the judging system and confidence was building among the guards. The membership was growing little by little.
The Circuit also changed its rules from a hard-line military guidebook to an inviting open association. The membership went from 15 in 1982 to 24 in 1984 and 32 in 1985. The openness of the instructors and the openness of the rules allowed for many people to participate with the circuit. The guards who came to try us for a contest were delighted with the tape input they were getting from the judges and were especially happy because people welcomed them.
The circuit has always been a competitive organization but the attitude of the 1982 – 1984 instructors and designers made it a great place to meet new people and develop lifetime friends.
The circuit continued to grow and almost doubled its membership each year for the next 3 – 4 years. Since then they have continued to increase to now be the largest color guard circuit in North America.
In 1988, the circuit reorganized under the name Winter Guard Association of Southern California and remains even more vibrate than those early days. Just finishing our 26th anniversary season, the WGASC now boasts over 355 members annually. We have expanded our education division and added our Marching Band division to further serve the community. We have a staff of 12 full and part-time individuals and continue to innovate and set standards across the activity.