Auxiliary Flag Team: Showcasing Dance and Color in a New Way

The flag team in their costumes for their current season’s performance of “Clocks” by Coldplay.

The flag team in their costumes for their current season’s performance of “Clocks” by Coldplay.

Amillia Nguyen, Class of 2024

A silent second of astonishment filled the air before deafening bursts of cheers and praise erupted from the stadiums following West Park High School’s flag team’s artistic performance at the weekly football games. Their six minute performance of dance and flag spinning captivated the viewers, making the halftime dances some of the most anticipated moments during the game as said by several students.

Although their halftime football performances are beginning to come to an end, their journey against rival color guard teams has just begun.

To ensure their skills are executed flawlessly in time for tournaments, the team has been working tirelessly to perfect their performances and their flag tossing techniques ever since the start of their season.

As different as it may seem, the idea of color guard hadn’t always been about spinning flags and performing, it was quite the opposite. The concept of color guard, also known as flag team or auxiliary guard, has been practiced throughout military history for hundreds of years. This group earned their name from soldiers who were considered responsible for guarding their nation’s flags or colors whenever there was a time of battle.

“Men with flags would accompany a band playing a patriotic song to invigorate the army at a time of war,” stated “Musical Expert” author Erik J.J. Goserud.

 Although now, their combatant counterparts don’t spin and toss the mock rifles and flags behind their backs. Which once stood as a sign of courageous militaristic tactics have evolved into a visual performance full of color and creativity which are included throughout hundreds of highschools including that of West Park High School.

West Park embarked on their color guard journey after band director Patrick Neff believed that it would be critical to the success of the band program. 

“Guard plays a key role in our Fall marching band field show, as they enhance the performance of the group with movement and equipment,” stated Neff. 

Along with the music performed by the band, the audience members would be able to partake in an imaginative recital, captivating themselves with a performance made by dedicated students and coaches.

Or as Junior Tiffany Chan puts it, “We’re the color of the band!”

Currently, 14 students make up the West Park flag team, varying from freshmen to seniors. Some of which assisted in strengthening the foundation of the guard team and helped set an example and guide the newer members.

Junior Nathalia Nguyen embarked on her color guard journey the first year it was introduced to the school during the fall of her sophomore year.

“During that time, I was still new to the school and so I thought that it would be something that both occupied my time but also a place where I would also be able to make new friends,” Nguyen admitted.

While experiencing the first few days of practicing, Nguyen claimed that it was awful and she contemplated quitting several times due to her fear of performing.

“Something in me convinced me to keep practicing so I pushed through,” Nguyen said. “And now, it’s my entire personality.”

Nguyen explained that her auxiliary flag team as well as the band team she performs alongside with has become like a family to her and was one of the things that motivated her to keep showing up to practices. The band and the flag team have become somewhat like a second family to her.

Similarly to Nguyen, fellow Junior Tiffany Chan thought that it would be a unique and interesting experience to undertake, especially after hearing about it from an online bulletin on one of West Park’s TVs during her sophomore year.

They find the experience of guard to be rewarding yet time consuming at the same time. 

“There are days where I need to plan around my rehearsals, but it’s all worth it in the end,” Chan stated when discussing facts people should consider before joining.

Chan and some of their team members agreed when expressing how difficult the visual sport truly is. The guard members claim that it’s more than just spinning; but above all else, they have to toss and catch heavy flags while dancing their choreography, smile, engage the crowd, all while staying focused and on count with the rest of the group.

“I feel like people underestimate how much time is put into the activity. We spend hours each week practicing and rehearsing our show,” Chan began. “It’s hard keeping up with new choreography, and adjusting on the fly.”

Not only does the auxiliary team have to deal with coordination and precision, performing outside is known to be a struggle as well.

“There are many variables that we cannot control that can dramatically impact our performance. Things like the wind blowing our tosses away, the sun getting in our eyes, etc,” Chan said.

Despite the aggravating challenges that guard members go through, Chan believes that the positive environment that their team has created will always be there for support if any student is struggling, regardless of whether they are a veteran guard member or experiencing their first season. 

“Everyone is supportive and hilarious, they make the hardest parts of being in guard easier to handle,”

 Chan stated sympathetically. “I would advise people that are struggling to ensure that they are well rested and are eating enough to get the energy they need. There were also 14 of us who went into our first indoor winter guard season with zero experience in the activity. We were able to learn through sheer effort and willingness to learn.”

With it being her first in the color guard team, sophomore Lavina Baird finds herself to be enjoying the new opportunities that guard has provided for her as well. Not only does Baird spin flags, but she is further known to be West Park’s first-ever baton twirler and performs alongside the color guard team to showcase her solo as well. 

“I’ve been baton twirling for over 13 years, and it’s one of my favorite things to do. . . I’ve traveled the world and won national championships for doing something I love and so having West Park showcasing baton twirling is just such a cool thing,” Baird stated. “And even with me recently joining guard, I was new, but everyone was so accepting and welcoming and I felt like with that extra support, I was able to jump right in and toss.”

On top of that, Baird is a part of the dance team as well, meaning she has to perform twice during football games: one for dance and the next for guard. 

“It’s definitely crazy having to run around to change into different costumes, I’ll have to admit but once you get used to it, it just becomes a part of the routine of getting ready,” Baird laughed. “But there’s nothing I would change, with guard and dance I’ve been able to meet new and amazing people and have a supportive community to confide in.”

With endless encouragement from the students and coaches involved, the flag team is dedicated to showcasing their performances and working towards gaining more publicity to their visual sport.

Even so, the talent of West Park’s flag team has been made more apparent now that they had performed at halftime during football games along with the dance and cheer team. Working together to practice two times a week, the color guard team focuses on rehearsing their performances both for football games and their weekly Saturday competitions. Despite the two having the same performances, they consider the artistic environment to be completely different.

“Football games are more lenient … With the audience there, they have no room to judge cause they can’t do what we’re doing,” Nguyen expressed. 

Despite the larger audience, both she and the flag team find more ease in their football performances compared to their tournaments since showcasing at football games can be considered a promising practice to improve skills for the next competition. 

“When performing for a competition, your every move is being judged and critiqued. Oftentimes you’ll see the judge point out our mistakes and record it all down and that’s hella scary. 

Furthermore, Nguyen pointed out how if a person makes a mistake, it doesn’t only affect them, but their entire section as well. As she puts it, “a simple mistake can cost your entire group.”

Despite the amount of stress the team is being put under, both Neff and the color guard team believes that their work has been paying off due to their preparation skills and their commitment to the activity.

Currently, the auxiliary flag team is performing “Clocks” by Coldplay  based on the sequence of “time” and although competitions are still progressing, the auxiliary flag team has placed both 1st and 2nd in their division and 2nd and 3rd place overall.

The flag team explained how they worked on using the scores and the feedback they had received from the judges in order to better their performing and synchronization skills as a whole.

“…And honestly, it worked. When we were working towards doing better than the previous competitions, it helped us stay more focused and we ended up placing higher because of it,” several guard members explained. 

As their competitions continue to progress, the flag team is rehearsing towards a solid performance, hoping that their efforts will reland them the title of first place such as they did in their competitions at Del Oro and Oakmont High School.

“So far, the competitions have been going great and I hope that we continue to do as good as we did,” Sophomore Tochi Asagwara confessed. “I’m excited to see where our team goes for the rest of [the competitions.]”

Tochi Asagwara joined during the duration of winter guard as a freshman and performed through both the current and the first winter showcasing as well.

Throughout the course of being in guard they believe that the hardest concept to do whether it is in football games or in competitions is to memorize choreography and to stay on time.

“You’ve got to work on flag angles, otherwise, the finished product won’t look in sync and that’s not what we want,” Asagwara explained.

To ensure this wouldn’t happen, Neff explains how he meets with them during their second period “Marching Band” class and the team often rehearse field formations, and clean up the music and choreography. This is also the first year where color guard students can take Marching Band as a class in order to rehearse for their competitions and with the extra practice, their tossing, synchronization, and movement skills have all been strengthened which can be reflected in their current performances.

Contrasting to this year’s recital of Clocks and Time, color guard showcased a recital called “Feel it Steal” during their first year, the group won 3rd and 5th place in a majority of their tournaments, including winning 3rd out of 17 groups overall during their championships.

“Especially considering that we had only been tossing [flags] for around three months, we were ecstatic with the score,” Asagwara stated. “We were probably less prepared than everyone else too because other groups probably had years of experience and weren’t as new as we were.”

Comparing their first season to their most recent one, it can be seen that the auxiliary flag team’s time and efforts have been paying off and as their season progresses, it can be safely assumed that their the group’s skills would only get better.

“It is hard to believe the great progress they have made … During that time they have made great strides as performers, and continue to mature as artists and technicians,” Neff admitted. “We will be expanding the program during our upcoming indoor season to include new equipment, and I am very excited about the future of the group.”