Area residents may not know it, but the city of Jamestown is home to one of the best high school winter guard programs in the nation.
Midway through its season of nine competitions, the Jamestown High School Express Winter Guard has been receiving high marks from judges in its previous four meetings. The program has placed first in its division at its two most recent regional and circuit competitions, and is on its way to being a top competitor at regional championships in April.
The program is currently competing in two separate organizations: Winter Guard International, which includes guard programs from across the country and the world; and Northeast Color Guard Circuit, containing local guard programs throughout the western half of New York state. While the winter guard season runs from November through April, the first two months are designated for preparation and rehearsal, with competitions beginning in January.
Members of the JHS Express Winter Guard pose for a group photo. Pictured in front, from left, are: Alyssa Huntington, Kelly Spencer, Kianna Wilson, Abbie Perrin and Breanna Kuhaneck. In the second row are: Lexi Paulson, Zane Franco, Miles Brickley and Brianna Harris. In the third row are: Caitlyn Conkright, Terry Spoon and Lexi Turner. In back are: Miranda Haley, Selena Martinez, Telly Ortiz and Emily Whitney.
Express contains 16 JHS upperclassmen and competes in the Scholastic A division of WGI. It has claimed first place in the division at its last two regional competitions in Pittsburgh and Rochester on Feb. 9 and Feb. 16, respectively.
According to Marc Lentsch, coach of Jamestown Public Schools' winter guard program, the 2013 team has been exceptional so far.
"We're very good this year," said Lentsch. "(Express) has placed first in its last two regionals and is currently ranked No. 1 in the country. It's possible that they could stay No. 1 through the season, but you never know what's out there (in terms of competition) until they come out (for championships)."
Winter guard competitions require guards to compete on a regulation gym floor, with a performance lasting for a duration of four to eight minutes. Participants use flags, rifles and sabers as normal entities of competition as field marching bands or drum and bugle corps do, but other props, backdrops and variations of equipment are used to create special effects and dramatic story lines.
Express can expect an average of 12 to 15 opponents at circuit competitions and even more at regional competitions.
In addition to Express, JPS also offers two other winter guard groups: Expressions, equivalent to junior varsity in other sports; and Caboose, for middle school students. All three groups compete within the NECGC, though Caboose only participates in four competitions per season because it is an introductory program.
According to Lentsch, about 70 JPS students are participating in the three guard groups.
"I think these numbers are great. We're probably the second biggest winter guard program in the state," he said, indicating that Cicero-North Syracuse High School has the largest program.
"Most districts only have one winter guard and it's usually anywhere from eight to 26 (members) with one group, so the fact that we have three groups with a total of 65 to 70 is pretty good," Lentsch continued. "And it's a lot people that we're affecting."
Following the success of its two previous regional competitions, Express will compete in a circuit competition through the NECGC on Saturday at Hinsdale High School, just past Olean on Interstate 86. According to Lentsch, Express will also have a performance in Jamestown on March 23, which will be followed by circuit championships at the Rochester Institute of Technology on April 6. Regional championships will take place in Dayton, Ohio, on April 11-12.
"Those are huge," said Lentsch. "They are sort of like the Olympics of our sport. Independent classes come from all over the world, but ours is scholastic so we're within the country. About 140 of the best guards across the country will be there."