Northern California had a color guard association, and they hosted their first show indoors in the late 1960s. Southern California hosted its first show in 1970. When competitors in Southern California wanted to compete, they had to travel to Northern California for competitions. In 1971, Southern California competitors hosted 2 shows but still traveled to Northern California about 4 times a year to compete. In 1972, they decided that frequent travel to Northern California became untenable and impractical.
In the Fall of that year, a group of 10 people met at the Westminster Civic Center and agreed to officially form a color guard circuit in Southern California.
With the Southern California circuit officially formed, they hosted their first competitive season in 1973 with 2 classes: A & B. All the guards, around 10, were independent. This was the first year that there were circuit championships in Southern California. Some competitors still traveled to Northern California, but it was for the fun of competition, not out of necessity.
At this time, 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. Just the year prior in 1973, music was already introduced to circuits in the rest of the country. During this time, if a group had music, they provided their own sound system to play. Most groups used reel-to-reel tape players. Sound system quality was hardly noticeable at this time; having the music at all was in and of itself enough of an impressive novelty. On occasion, enterprising individuals with good sound systems offered to play music for groups for a fee: $5.00.
Guard shows had the same basic requirements required today: They had to begin on a starting line and cross an exit line. They were on opposite ends of the floor, and they would call them to stage right and stage left. During a group’s performance, they had to fulfill the basic requirements. Most of the opportunities for creativity lived in how to get from one requirement to the next in a way that differentiated themselves from their competitors.
The requirements were Pass in Review, Posting, Retrieving of the Colors, and Manual of Arms. As time progressed, the circuit relaxed the rules, and by 1974, groups only had to do 2 of the requirements. Everyone still had an American Flag Section, and a group’s drill was often centered around the American Flag, especially during the requirements. In the late 1970s, all of the requirements were gone, and within a season, so was the requirement to even march with the American Flag during competition.
In 1977, the circuit saw the first color guard, Seattle Imperials, that was not wearing boots but instead, ballet slippers. Stanley Knaub, from Southern California and an alumnus of Lakewood High School’s marching band, is credited as the first designer and instructor to put dance on the floor instead of only marching. By 1980, many groups kicked off their boots and traded stiff military cadet jackets for breathable, movable clothing.
Up until 1982, the judges were members of the American Legion Judges Association. Some judges were from the military, but many of them were former students and performers from groups in Southern California. In 1982, the circuit instructors met and saw a need to improve the judging in Southern California by setting a code of standards.
In the past, judges usually had little or no current background in the color guard activity, and many instructors became frustrated by this. As a solution, the discontented instructors decided to take up the mantle and become judges themselves. They trained and learned how to judge, made tapes with the type of dialog they wanted to hear, and practiced 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 followed suit.
In 1982, the circuit struggled with low membership and a 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 reformation of the rules allowed many people to participate in the circuit. New guards who tentatively attended contests were delighted with the tape input they received from the judges. These new groups were especially happy because people welcomed them.
The circuit has always been a competitive organization, but the attitude of the 1982–1984 era instructors and designers made it a welcoming place to meet new people and develop lifetime friends, which is an approach the organization upholds today.
In 2019, the leaders of WGASC met with the largest percussion circuit in California, ADLA. Shortly after that meeting, ADLA became a part of the WGASC family. In 2023, WGASC has a blended community of Percussion, Winds and Color Guards.
The circuit continued to grow and almost doubled its membership each year for the rest of the decade. Since then, their continued growth has established them to be the largest color guard circuit in North America.
In 1988, the circuit was reorganized under the name Winter Guard Association of Southern California and remains even more vibrant. Just finishing the 34th anniversary season, the WGASC now boasts over 450 members annually. They have expanded their education division and added Percussion and Winds in 2021 to further serve the community. They have a staff of 12 full-time and part-time individuals who continue to innovate and elevate standards across the pageantry arts. WGASC proudly fosters artistic excellence, creates an inclusive community, and delivers quality experiences for all.
The 2023 season is the first which fully integrates percussion, winds and color guard. We are so grateful to all of our members and look forward to growing each division into the future.