David shares his recent experiences with taking his color guard from local to WGI competition and building a program from 10 to almost 40 members in 3 short years.
The Loudoun Valley High School Color Guard is a growing force in the Northern Virginia color guard community. In just three short years, this program from Purcellville, VA has grown from 10 members to almost 40, split into separate JV and Varsity ensembles and taken the leap into regional and national WGI competition. I talked with their director, David Noland, about his experiences over the past three seasons and what he thinks are the key factors in their exciting growth!
Mr. Noland’s Bio:
Mr. Noland is a high school English teacher at Loudoun Valley High School who teaches several AP level classes. He started spinning in 7th grade when he was an equipment manager at Paden City High School in Paden City, WV. He says, “the girls in the guard throught it was cute to teach me how to spin!” He went on to play Tuba in the band as well as fill the position of drum major the year before joining the guard full time in his senior year, when he was given the opportunity to write the choreography for the team.
David started coaching immediately out of high school in 1991 and has held positions at Paden City, Wheeling Park and University High Schools in West Virginia. In 1992 he wrote the opener for the Golden Lancers drum and bugle corps from Pittsburgh, PA. He marched with the West Virginia University color guard for four years while a student there and then served as their director from 1995 – 1999. He also auditioned for Madison Scouts in the spring of 1994 which would have been his age-out and made the line but wasn’t able to march due to family illness.
Mr. Noland has also worked as a cheerleading coach and choreographer and has directed musicals at the middle school where he taught prior to moving to Loudoun Valley. He has been the color guard director at Loudoun Valley High School in Virginia since 2004.
Where is the school located and how would you describe the community?
The school is located in Purcellville, VA. Enrollment is about 1600 students 10th – 12th grade (2200 9 – 12). We feed from an intermediate school (8th/9th graders) and there are Eighth graders in the program but only one this year…maybe three 9th graders…most of the kids are from the high school. I would describe Valley as a Community School with the typical small-town feel, but still a suburban setting. It serves primarily upper-middle class families.
What is the size of the marching band?
The marching band is classified as AAA with just over 100 total including guard.
How long have you been coaching at Loudoun Valley High School and what brought you to this program?
Since fall 2004 – this is my fourth year with the program. It was really chance that brought me to the program. The parents were insistent that they get some continuity in the program which they didn’t have because there was a new guard instructor every year. So the principal, in his interviews for teaching vacancies, started looking for someone with color guard experience. In my interview he asked in I would take over the guard and I said, “Yes.”
How many students did you have on the guard when you started there (fall vs winter) and what was their experience?
My first fall guard was ten. Five were pretty experienced and five were in their first year. We were only spinning flag that first season. Our first winter I got 20. I advertised a lot in the school. I think it helps that I’m in the building and the kids know me. A large portion of that guard (8 of them) were sophomores. And that winter season we attempted to spin saber.
Two years ago you decided to split the team into Varsity and JV squads. What led to this decision?
A large amount of interest and a huge variety of skill level. We definitely had kids who could spin and kids who were new. Also, I felt like the JV group would strengthen the upper program. I had 8 Eighth graders in that first JV guard.
What is the difference between the two teams in terms of responsibility, practice time, prerequisites, etc.?
JV has no real prerequisite, only desire. They practice 3 1/2 hours a week (Mondays and Wednesdays), and varsity practices five hours a week across 2 days. Both groups have an additional dance class on Friday. I actually have 3 high school girls who are upperclassmen at the high school who are classically trained ballet dancers who teach the class. We also have 3 Saturday practices during the season. JV only has one or two Saturdays. The Varsity team competes 9 times this year. JV competes 6 times.
Do you have students who personally choose to remain on JV rather than move to Varsity?
I did this year for the first time. They usually choose to remain for experience in a leadership position. Although sometimes they feel like they’re not ready or they don’t want to commit the extra time.
How do you personally balance the responsibilities of teaching and directing 2 ensembles? Do you have help with instruction or design?
I have help with design more than instruction. This year we have somebody staging the entire show and he’s also writing the last minute of the show. Everything else comes from me.
Balancing the time makes me crazy! It’s a wonder I don’t wear a straight-jacket! I spend a lot of Sundays grading papers all day because I teach three advanced-placement Language & Composition classes and two 10th grade English Classes. With the practice schedule being as limited as it is I just try to make the most of every single minute.
Over the past few years you’ve seen a remarkable growth in terms of numbers and recruitment. To what factors would you attribute this growth?
The number one thing is that I teach in the school and all the kids know who I am, not to mention the fact that when I have a chance I try to educate my classes about guard. I use WGI performance videos as warm-ups about theme and imagery.
The number two credit has to go to the kids because I think that 99% of the kids have a really positive experience and after they have that positive experience they bring their friends with them next year.
What do you see as your biggest challenge in the upcoming years?
The biggest hurdle for us in the future as the program continues to grow and move forward is for me to balance the good experience with the work ethic that we need to move up.
This will be your third season competing at WGI competitions. How do you think your involvement at the WGI level has benefitted the program?
I think to see a quality A, Open or World class WGI guard changes where your kids’ initial line of thinking is…when they can see the equipment and the body and the movement all put together in a nice neat package, like quality WGI competitors can, it pushes them to move forward. They see the kid do the triple turn around on the rifle and then they want to do it. And if I hadn’t taken them there to see it they wouldn’t even know it was possible.
What are the challenges associated with WGI participation and how do you approach these challenges?
It’s tough for the kids to go and come in last place. We’ve done that once. We came in last to our class at a regional in Syracuse. It’s a very ugly feeling and they don’t want to experience that again so it makes them want to work harder.
Has the team achieved finals status yet at a regional? How do you help your performers put placement in perspective with the stiff competition at the WGI level?
Unfortunately, no. We try to set achieveable goals. We don’t go in thinking we’re going to make finals. That would just be a nice bonus. We try to think of the WGI experience as an educational one. We are there to learn: from ourselves and our performances and from the performances of others. My kids have the uncanny ability of putting placement in perspective without much assistance from me. Our experience at the WGI regionals and championships has led us to our current path. Taking my varsity guard to Dayton last year was the best thing I could have done for my kids and for the entire program.
The chance to see that many world guards in one place and experience a world guard performance in perspective to an A guard performance – to know there really are no limitations in what they can do with their equipment and bodies – to see groups from other countries. My kids actually call themselves members of the “Cult of Colorguard” now. It also is a bonding activity for them because they are the only kids from their school that can say, “I performed at World Championships and I have the patch to prove it!” It really encouraged the kids from the JV program last year to move up. I had 18 in the JV program last year and 12 of them moved up to varsity.
What did it take in terms of fees and budget to make the step to WGI level competition? What steps did you have to take to make that step from local to regional/national competition?
In the past 2 years the fees have tripled from $100.00 to $300.00 and the kids pay for their own travel expenses which can be as much as $700.00 for two regionals and championships. We shared a bus to Dayton last year to save money.
Finally, is there anything else you have learned along the way that you’d like to share with other instructors?
Be realistic, be patient, and be kind. Push for the growth in each performer gently. Praise often. Be human in front of your kids…last year when our music was cutting in and out at a show the kids could see me tugging on what little hair I have left. When the music cut out for good and they counted and kept on going they saw concern and admiration in my face and when it was all done they saw me cry, not only from mental exhaustion but also from joy. When your students see the real you and the passion you have for the activity, the sky is the limit.
About the Author (Author Profile)
Catina Anderson is the founder/editor of the Colorguard Educators blog. Color guard has been part of her life for almost 25 years. She began coaching in 1994 and worked with the Broad Run High School color guard in Northern VA from 1998 until 2010. She has also written for Halftime Magazine and served on the Executive Board of the Atlantic Indoor Association. A former teacher, she enjoys sharing what she has learned and hopes to encourage others to share as well. Together we can create even more positive experiences for performers and help to collectively strengthen marching arts activities worldwide.