Go for Gold

Holly Springs High School Winter Guard impresses at world championships

The Holly Springs High School Winter Guard at the WGI World Championships in April. The group placed third out of more than 100 teams.
The Holly Springs High School Winter Guard at the WGI World Championships in April. The group placed third out of more than 100 teams.
Winter guard combines dance and skills with flags, rifles, and sabres in a theatrical show set to music.
Winter guard combines dance and skills with flags, rifles, and sabres in a theatrical show set to music.

Josh Betts, Holly Springs High School student, describes the school’s Winter Guard show, A Small Light, “like nothing else you’ll see.”

Betts dances and spins across the gym floor, in time with 15 fellow schoolmates, rehearsing A Small Light until it is near perfect in execution and artistry.

The sport of winter guard, akin to color guard, involves dance and choreographed spinning of sabres, mock rifles, and flags, plus storytelling elements and theatrical movements. Winter guards perform in indoor arenas to recorded music and narration in a series of competitions during February and March.

The HSHS varsity (or gold) guard is among the best in the nation, earning first place in the Atlantic Indoor Association’s North and South Championships, and an impressive third out of 114 teams at the Winter Guard International World Championships in April.

“It’s been pretty awesome to witness. We’re enjoying the ride,” says Michael Biasi, director of bands at Holly Springs High.

Sixteen students make up the varsity guard, led by director Luke Oglesby and instructors Liz Jenkins and Daniel Adams.

A Small Light is based on the story of Miep Gies, who helped hide Anne Frank and her family from the Nazis during World War II, inspired by the National Geographic show by the same name.

“At first, I wasn’t sure how it was going to be received,” says Biasi. “But (Oglesby) took on this subject matter. … Through his guidance and a lot of hard work, the show has really gone to a whole other level over the course of the year.

“It’s definitely set us apart because nobody else in our area is tackling anything like that.”

Through dance and synchronized movements, including a lot of impressive rifle and flag tosses, the students bring the story to life, complete with authentic period
costumes and hairstyles.

“It’s a very moving and emotional show. What grabs everyone is the story,” says Paul Alvarez, father to guard members Izzy and Irene, and co-president of the Holly Springs High School Band Boosters.

On the eve of the guard’s trip to the WGI World Championships, held in Ohio, senior captain Keira McNierney felt “really excited and more prepared than last year.” (The group’s first trip to the World Championships was in 2023, where they placed sixth out of 120 teams.)

During this year’s routine, McNierney executes an impressive rifle catch behind her back on an elevated platform, but her practiced hands show no sign of nerves. She started guard as a third grader and now helps coach younger guard teams.

“The kids look up to me. It’s been a great experience,” she says.

Betts, a first-timer at this year’s world championships, said he is excited to bring Gies’ story to the world.

“Give (the show) that chance. Watch all the way through. It gets intense in the middle, and the end brings it all together,” he says.

Instructor Liz Jenkins is particularly excited to experience the world championships with the team — “for them to see and feel how wonderful they are.”

“The group is hardworking with a passion for the arts,” says Jenkins. “They work for each other. This is not a sport where you are working on your own.”

“The parent support is unlike anything I’ve seen,” says instructor Daniel Adams, clearing the path for the directors and students to focus on honing their craft.

“The parents got together to raise $16,000 to send the team to the world championships,” says Josh Bordelon, father to guard member Brie. “We want to make sure the kids have the ability to compete.”

Parents, including Bordelon and Alvarez, also tackle prop making for the guard, often repurposing materials from other band programs to build set pieces on a tight budget.

“It’s a great program: great instructors, great leadership, and parent involvement,” says Alvarez. “It’s one giant family.”

The varsity guard isn’t the only group making waves. Holly Springs High School Band Boosters support five winter ensembles: the varsity and junior varsity winter guards, plus Junior Hawks middle school guard, Lil’ Hawks elementary school guard, and a high school Indoor Percussion ensemble. All five groups earned first place honors at the AIA South Championships.

“For our kids to be in a position where they can experience that is pretty awesome,” says Biasi.

“We are all extremely proud of this year,” says Alvarez. “They have taken the show by storm and are watched by groups all over the nation.”

Special thanks to HSHS Parents Melissa Woffinden, Jill Sawyer, Jim Salmonson, Shannon Keyser, Elliott Potts, and Josh Bordelon for competition photography.

Rehearsal photography by Jonathan Fredin. 

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