Some of my greatest experiences in high school happened on the competition field. However, I stepped away from competing once I got to college. It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made.
My marching arts experience began in eighth grade when I auditioned for my high school’s marching band after a friend encouraged to join. I didn’t play an instrument, so she said color guard would be a lot of fun for me. My best friend and I decided to try out together to see where it would take us.
Color guard became a home for me.
It got me through a bad break up and the stress of college applications.
My senior year, I realized how much color guard actually meant to me. I was a member of my high school’s marching band and the indoor color guard, a program focused on the color guard performing as a single ensemble. All of my friends knew they would rarely see me outside of class. The team practiced at least three days a week and competed almost every Saturday from August to April.
Color guard was an after-school activity that became so second nature that I wouldn’t know what to do with myself when the instructor canceled practice. I never really thought about what life would look like without it in my life. It made up practically every moment of high school for me. I loved the people and the feeling of competing before a panel of judges. Most of all, I loved challenging myself to learn new tricks on different pieces of equipment.
I dreamed for years of joining a better program after graduating. When I got to senior year, though, something clicked inside of me. I knew color guard would never be the same again. It would be the end of everything I knew.
Every time I looked at the freshmen of the squad, I got teary-eyed. They were so naive. It didn’t occur to them how much color guard would mean to them until it was almost over. I cried before my last football game, and I even remember crying during my very last marching band performance. Yet, I remember my last high school color guard practice even better.
We finished up with our final run through the day before the indoor color guard regional finals. I panicked when I realized it was my last practice and begged for another run. The instructor said we didn’t need it but let us do it anyway.
I cried after it was over because I gave it everything. My instructor was even crying. But what made me the most emotional was the moments before the music started. My instructor said to me, “Don’t worry, Jade. This isn’t your last time competing with a squad. I know it.”
My heart ached. I really hope it wouldn’t be.
I began my first semester at Pennsylvania State University four months later with auditions for the Blue Band. When I made the silk line, I felt overjoyed. But I also felt as if a piece of me went missing. Collegiate marching bands don’t compete. I often spent game days thinking about the rush of stepping onto the field in front of judges.
I knew that I wouldn’t compete with the Blue Band the moment I became a part of it, relying on an indoor color guard program to fulfill my desires. Unfortunately, Penn State’s indoor color guard wasn’t what I wanted. And for anyone who doesn’t know, State College sits pretty much in the middle of nowhere. There weren’t any programs a reasonable distance from campus.
My color guard dream began in high school, but I dreamed of becoming a writer since I wrote stories about my Barbies in the third grade. Being accepted into the Penn State College of Communications was one of the best days of my life. I felt prepared for the hours of work that I would put into becoming successful.
It is practically required that students join communications clubs while at Penn State. The newspapers, TV stations and radio network give students hands-on experience that students need to find jobs after college.
I didn’t get involved with any clubs during my first semester because I focused on the Blue Band. I did find time to join new clubs the next semester. My advisors asked me if I was willing to give up color guard completely to focus all of my attention on journalism.
For those who never experienced color guard, it’s difficult to understand how much of an impact it makes on someone. My advisors couldn’t grasp just how hard it felt when I chose to give up competing in an indoor color guard.
A piece of me went missing that day.
When I got to college, I needed to realize sometimes you must to let go of some dreams in order to fulfill others. I spent much of senior year deciding whether I would go to Penn State for the fantastic communications program or James Madison University, which has one of the best color guards in the country. It took months of stress and tears before I made my decision.
James Madison competed in the world indoor color guard circuit, WGI. I never competed in WGI while in high school because our program wasn’t good enough. For four years I was determined to see myself in Dayton, Ohio for the world championships. At JMU, I could compete.
But I wanted a career in journalism. Competing with JMU would give me another four years of passion and excitement, but it wouldn’t last for the rest of my life. My education and career must come first. I dreamed of becoming a writer since I was eight. I couldn’t give that up even if it breaks my heart to let go of color guard.
Sometimes I lay in bed and think about how incredible it felt to compete. My whole body would shake and my eyes would tear up while I waited to go out onto the floor. And when I was out there, I felt invincible. For five minutes, I could be whoever I wanted to be. I left my inhibitions at the door and gave everything on the competition floor. It made me feel truly alive.
While I know that dedicating myself to the communications programs on campus will give me an edge against other applicants, I can’t help but think of what could have been. I look at old pictures and scroll through videos of other groups competing and wonder what my future would look like if I hadn’t given up competing.
Of course, I could come back to it, but the chances are slim. There just aren’t enough hours in a day. My color guard competition days are in the past. My dreams have been retired.