Homecourt advantage; winter guard brings home championship

Mason High School’s competitive winter guard team performs their show “Never Love Again” at the Mid East Performance Association competition hosted at Mason Middle School

Taylor Murray | The Chronicle

Dancers and flags filled the school when Mason hosted winter guard competition for the first time and won first place.

On March 11, 2023, percussion groups, winds groups and winter guards came to Mason Middle School (MMS) from over 60 different schools in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana to participate in a Mid East Performance Association (MEPA) competition, hosted by Mason. The competition lasted all day and had groups competing in all grade levels.

Mason High School’s (MHS) competitive winter guard team, who recently broke school records by winning first place at a Winter Guard International (WGI) regional competition in Chicago, won first place with a score of 85.42 in the Scholastic A category at Mason’s competition. 

A lot of work went into organizing and hosting the first MEPA competition at Mason. Jason Sleppy, an MHS band director, sat down with Howard Pinsky and Shannon Wielinga, two MHS band parents, to divide up the responsibilities of volunteers and prepare the Mason community for such a large competition. Mason was picked to host because of its spacious facilities and capability to house hundreds of people, and the parents had to figure out how to fit the numerous teams into one building. 

“We’ve never done a competition like this before,” Sleppy said. “We kind of have to build everything from scratch. We do have the blueprint of hosting our own marching band show in the fall, which is similar, but it’s not the same.”

Sleppy said that there were around 60 volunteering spots that needed to be filled by MHS parents. Between concessions, ticket sales, school guides and many other roles, hosting this competition would not have been possible without the assistance of many Mason families and older members of the non-competitive guard team. 

Erica Compton, MHS color guard and winter guard director, is responsible for training the guard and sometimes choreographing all or part of their shows. In preparing for the competition, Compton said that although they were approaching the day like any other MEPA or WGI event, the team was more excited than usual to perform on their home turf. 

“I feel like [being on home turf is] an advantage,” Compton said. “That’s a really cool thing for them, but also probably a nervy thing for them because there’s going to be all their peers watching them.”

Samantha Pinsky, a sophomore on the MHS competitive guard team, said hosting the competition was a great opportunity for Mason. All of the money that was made at the event, whether from ticketing, concessions or otherwise, went to the Band Boosters. The money will help fund the marching band in future endeavors, such as the upcoming Rose Bowl trip in January 2024. 

“Dipping our toes into being a part of MEPA is going to be a good thing for us and help us raise money,” Pinsky said. “It is going to make winter guard a more well-known thing around Mason because it’s really not that known.”

As a member of both the summer and fall guard for marching band and the winter competitive guard, Pinsky said she sees firsthand how guards from different schools interact with each other. She said that even the very competitive guard teams are always optimistic and encouraging when interacting with opposing schools, which gives the guard a familial aspect.

“I feel like everybody just loves the atmosphere of competitions,” Pinsky said. “Everyone before or after their shows will say stuff like ‘have a great run,’ or ‘you look so pretty’ and everything like that. It just brightens everybody up.”

The members of the competitive guard shared a common excitement leading up to the Mason performance, creating a sense of community that has fueled their recent practices. Compton said she is proud of the progress that the team has made, and that the show has continued to refine as they practice and compete throughout the season. 

 “We’re in a really good spot this year with some really talented people,” Compton said. “We love the show and I think that’s starting to show up.”

Photo by Taylor Murray