The “is it a sport or not?” debate vis a vis everything from women’s skiing to cheerleading has been ongoing for some time now … and there’s pretty much universal support for the fact that it is, at least when you’re considering teams that compete, not just shake pom poms around at a football game or something.
Which leads me to winterguard, a primarily female activity that’s become increasingly popular both in American high schools and at a competitive level.
When my daughter announced to me last year that, as a high school junior, she wanted to join her school’s winterguard team, I was pretty flummoxed. For one thing, I had only the haziest idea of what winterguard was … namely, girls dressed in odd-looking costumes waving flags around.
I soon learned that it was more than that. Much more.
For one thing, it entailed three hour practices two nights a week, daylong practices on weekends, and eventually competitions every weekend. Oh, and countless hours spent in the backyard practicing flag tosses.
The end result of all that practice, the concussions and chipped teeth and bumps and bruises collected by this team, looked something like this.
I was blown away every time I watched that show, and on a personal level, watching my daughter, who has a tendency not to try something if she’s not going to quickly and easily excel at it, blossom into a confident performer through an activity that was incredibly challenging both physically and emotionally was powerful beyond words.
She also dropped something like twenty pounds over the course of last year’s season, and she wasn’t a big girl to start with. The physical demands of winterguard left her not just bruised and battered, but buff as well.
But does that make it a sport?
Well, what exactly constitutes the word “sport”? According to an English teacher I know who specializes in …
… Sports Literature, an activity must have the following components to be considered a sport:
1) Centered around at least one physical skill
2) Fixed set of rules and an enforcement thereof
3) Competitive element that includes winning or losing (or rankings, as the case may be)
Using that criteria, winterguard more than fits the bill.
The physical skill involved in the various flag moves, not to mention the even-more challenging tosses of sabres and rifles as well as the accompanying complex dance routines, is intense.
Winterguard teams are scored by official judges who critique everything from technical difficulty to overall effect. They oversee the rules of what fits into the definition of winterguard, and performers are assessed by those rules.
Finally, each competition ends with an awards ceremony where each “division” receives both a numeric score and a ranking.
I mention all this because I spent today at a winterguard competition. While there, I heard people discussing the merits and weaknesses of each performance. I even heard the “this isn’t a sport” statement more than once, and it really got me thinking.
Perhaps most compelling to me, though, was the dismissal of my daughter’s team by some of the other spectators. My mother overheard the most damning statement directly, and it took everything she had not to turn around and snap at the rude commentary. I probably would not have been able to keep my mouth shut.
“Don’t bother watching them … it’s completely stupid, just like reality television.”
The combination of artistic impression and athletic prowess present in this year’s show completely wowed me, and my daughter’s presence had nothing to do with that. The show is impressive, plain and simple (although, to be fair, its focus is on secrets, gossiping, pain, and such).
So while I have a personal investment in winterguard as a parent and am aware of the intense physical work that goes into it, its presence is not going unnoticed, both locally, where New Hampshire’s television station WMUR did a feature on my daughter’s team (which has gone undefeated in competition for six years, a point that has been made at numerous school pep rallies), and nationally.
I say that winterguard is definitely a sport, and an exceptionally challenging one at that.
What are your thoughts?