When Masuk’s marching band ended, its color guard played on

The Masuk JV Color Guard celebrates a first place finish at a competition at Trumbull High School earlier in the season.

Seven girls on the Masuk JV Color Guard performed a synchronized dance with a kaleidoscope theme, spinning tie dye flags, and tossing wooden rifles adorned with purple holographic tape into the air to the song, “Kaleidoscope” by A Great Big World, at the 2023 Musical Arts Conference Championship at Bunnell High School on Saturday, April 1.

The performance earned them 82.86 points from the judges and the championship trophy in their competition against Maloney JV from Meriden. Both JV teams are made up of middle school students.

“I told them over and over again I was just so incredibly proud of all they accomplished this season,” said Head Coach Carly Wolfe. “They came in never having touched a piece of equipment in their lives. They didn’t know what color guard was. Many of them didn’t know each other when they joined the team.”

“They left as a family. They bonded together as a family and just showed their dedication,” she said. “They came out on top. They brought home the gold.”

Wolfe, a graduate of Masuk High School’s Class of 2008, coaches the Masuk JV Color Guard team with Assistant Coach Katelyn Alix.

A competition photo taken by Domenic DiSorbo: A Moment in Time.

“She started with me in sixth grade, so we had a full circle moment in the program this year,” Wolfe said. “She started as a sixth grader and she is now a sophomore in college at Southern Connecticut University.”

Alix competes in color guard for the University of New Haven, because Southern doesn’t have a team, according to Wolfe.

The Jockey Hollow Middle School students of the Masuk JV team are in a program under Masuk High School’s umbrella, because it allows them to change in a classroom next to the varsity team during competitions, rather than on the other side of the building.

Karyn Knapik, a science teacher at Masuk, is director of both programs. She said the Masuk Varsity Color Guard team, which finished in second place at SWCs and placed fifth out-of-12 teams at the MAC Championships (essentially states for color guard) also had a successful season.

“More important than the placement, is how much they grew and what they achieved as performers, especially with a mix of team members brand new to the team spinning alongside seven year veterans,” Knapik said. “Being able to carry the theme of the show with that performance, in our case Lady Gaga, was a challenge at first but they all pulled it out in the end. I’m very proud of what they’ve accomplished and can’t wait to see what they bring to the table next season.”

Not considered a sport

A competition photo from Naugatuck High School taken by Karyn Knapik.

The Masuk Color Guard used to perform in competitions alongside the Masuk Marching Band in the fall and in winter competitions, but since the band was disbanded 10 years ago, the color guard has only participated at indoor competitions in the winter.

“Color guard is different than anything else out there,” Knapik said. “It combines dance, theater, manipulation of flags, rifles and sabres all to a chosen soundtrack. There is no one ‘on the bench’ and all team members must work together to be successful.”

“Not only does it help with self confidence and time management, it gives you lifelong friends and a place that feels like home,” she added. “I’ve been with the program for 16 years now and these kids, along with my staff, are my second family.”

Wolfe said girls learn how to spin and toss various pieces of equipment in JV. “It’s flags and rifles and at varsity they learn how to spin and toss a saber, and they also learn dance — dance is a big piece of color guard,” she said.

She said kids also learn sportsmanship, while supporting all members and teams on the floor, as well as how to deal with the pressure of stressful situations.

“A lot of kids will say they found themselves through the color guard program,” Wolfe said. “It’s an open community where they can truly be who they are, and that’s big, because middle school can be that awkward stage where they’re navigating life. They’re figuring out where they belong.”

“It’s also a great physical outlet for them,” she said. “Even though we’re not considered a sport, everything we do is what would be classified as a sport. They need to build a stamina and endurance. They build up their muscle tone … the coordination.”

Building the JV program

A competition photo taken by Domenic DiSorbo: A Moment in Time.

Knapik headed the varsity program when Wolfe participated in color guard as a student at Masuk.

“I did the marching band and the winter program,” Wolfe recalled. “I fell in love with color guard. When I graduated I said, ‘I want to start a program for elementary school kids.'”

About 10 years ago, Wolfe, who is now a fifth grade teacher at Daniels Farm Elementary School in Trumbull, approached Knapik about starting an elementary school program in Monroe.

Knapik was supportive of the idea, but wanted to start a middle school program first. The Masuk JV Color Guard’s first competitive season was in 2013-14. It has since become a feeder program for varsity.

While experience on JV is not necessary for students to join the varsity program, Wolfe said it provides an added benefit.

“Having a JV program really helps get interest early on, when kids are more open to trying new things,” Knapik said. “This is especially important when you’re not a sport that has been covered in gym class or through parks and recreation. Selfishly, this program introduces all the basics of guard, so when they are in high school they can learn the more complicated tricks and movements sooner rather than later.”

The JV team competes in half of the competitions that the varsity team does.

“We have a Big Littles program,” Wolfe said. “We match up varsity members with junior varsity members, so they cheer for each other at competitions. When JV members make it to high school, they have someone there on their side. That high school transition can be scary for the middle school graduates, so this helps with the transition.”

A kaleidoscope theme

A competition photo taken by Domenic DiSorbo: A Moment in Time.

In its 10 years, the Masuk JV Color Guard competed for eight seasons, losing two to the COVID-19 pandemic, when some girls learned to spin the flags, but no competitions were held.

During a competition each team has a total of seven minutes, including the time it takes to set up the floor for their performance. The show itself must be a minimum of three minutes, Wolfe said.

“They have to cross the time line to get out of the gym before the seven minutes are up or they get a penalty,” she said.

Wolfe said the Masuk JV Color Guard felt lucky to have a light floor this season, making it quicker and easier to set up. While floors typically range from 500 to 1,000 pounds, she said her team wheeled out their 120-pound-floor on a wooden cart.

“This year our theme was a kaleidoscope,” Wolfe said. “We cut our floor in the shape of a circle and used holographic duct tape to make the mirrored effect of a kaleidoscope, and made bright colored shapes scattered all around the circle.”

The length of their show was approximately four minutes.

A panel judges performances across several categories, including design analysis, general effect, equipment and movement.

“The color guard scoring system is very complicated,” Wolfe said. “You gain points for what you’ve done well. A whole bunch of decimals are involved.”

The middle school division was small this year, so Masuk JV competed against Maloney JV throughout the season. Wolfe said every competition was close and the two teams gained a mutual respect for each other.

Wolfe said members of a color guard team are really competing against themselves.

“I always tell my girls, ‘you need to strive to be better than you were the competition before,'” she said. “It’s just about improving your performance each week.”

How to join

The Masuk JV Color Guard took first place at a competition held at Norwalk High School.

Masuk JV Color Guard had a small team this season. The minimum number of members to compete on the floor is five and Monroe only had two more than that.

“Seven is pushing it,” Wolfe said. “We really like to see 10 kids, but these kids really wanted it so we said, ‘let’s do it.'”

Ever since Masuk discontinued the marching band, Wolfe said there was a decline in numbers for the color guard, and every year has been a new challenge to keep the program going.

“Five of our seven kids are moving up to varsity next year, so we need to rebuild again,” she said.

The middle school team is for girls in grades six through eight. “We just put a flier out in the middle school,” Wolfe said. “We’ll also put out social media posts.”

“We’ll be running some practices after spring break for anyone who wants to give it a try, as well as a camp week in the summer,” Knapik said.

Middle and high school students interested in joining the color guard should send an email to Knapik at [email protected] and fill out the Google interest form.

A team photo taken after a first place finish at the Championships at Bunnell High School, front row from left: Head Coach Carly Wolfe, Assistant Coach Katelyn Alix, middle row from left: Tanisha, Sofia and Kerrie, back row from left: Emily, Athena, Aniya and Ixchel.

“There’s so much growth that the kids make in a short period of time in terms of the confidence level and the friendships,” Wolfe said. “They really look at each other as family members by the time they leave this program.”

Unlike sports programs whose players have been involved with it for many years, Wolfe said color guard members all start on the same level.

“You don’t really have to be worried about someone being ‘better than you’ when first joining guard, because everyone is in the same position learning something new,” she said. “We also have a really unique connection that gets formed with our members, where many of them continue to come back to support us in the stands.”

“It’s really humbling as a coach to know that I helped these kids find their passion and to watch them grow through this ‘sport of the arts,'” Wolfe said.

She asked some team members why they think others should join. Among the responses were:

“It gave me a lot of confidence.”

“The community is super welcoming and supportive. It’s just a very healthy environment and I feel very comfortable whenever I’m at practice.”

“You make new friends; people you think you would never be your friends become your friends.”

“It helped me escape all of my other problems in life and it helps with stress and anger sometimes.”

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