Tough practice pays off on field

Dutchtown High School junior Mieklan Bortnick is a perfectionist, a trait that comes in handy in her role as captain of the school’s color guard.

As captain, Bortnick, 15, leads the group of 19 through countless hours of rehearsals, counting out each move and reminding members when to toss, grab and push the flags.

During a recent practice, Bortnick, a junior, stood at the front of the unit’s formation, seemingly having eyes in the back of her head, as she performed her routine and gave pointers to the girls standing behind her.

“Control your wrist,” she said when a few of the members were having trouble with a maneuver.

Co-captain Emilee Hawkins spent some of her time re-taping flags.

As a color guard member would call her name, Hawkins would dash over, exchange flags and run for the tape to make a quick repair.

“They work harder than anyone,” band director David Holland said as he watched the Aug. 12 practice in the school cafeteria.

Holland said the color guard is an integral part of the band’s football halftime show.

Without the color guard, he said, the show is not complete and fans wouldn’t get the visual connection to the theme portrayed on the field.

Color guards members play a key role in this year’s heroes-themed show, he said.

To ensure that the show goes off without a hitch, color guard instructor Melanie Cash and assistant instructor Amy Dupuy have been rehearsing with the unit since the squad was selected in April

Cash calls the color guard “the visual representation for the music that is played.”

To get that visual element across to the fans in the stands, the guard uses flags, sabers, rifles and dance moves.

The group has logged more than 165 hours of rehearsal since April, practicing once a week during the summer and during two weeklong camps. Since school started, the color guard runs routines four days a week in preparation for football games and competitions.

During those two-hour practice sessions, the members work on drop spins, red devils, blue devils, grinders and pop tosses with their flags. Each flag weighs 2 to 5 pounds.

The members say the long hours are worth it on Friday night under the lights of the stadium.

Some of Cash’s previous students have gone on to use their skills on college units and earn scholarship money.

“Color guard is basically my life, and I’m okay with that because its something I love to do and like we always say, ‘Get it right, get it tight’ ” Bortnick said.

Bortnick joined the school’s winter guard — an indoor color guard competition unit — her freshman year and was named to the full color guard her sophomore year.

Bortnick said her scariest guard moment happened when she was learning how to spin a saber.

“I was scared that I would hit myself, and I did a couple of times but it was worth it,” she said.

Hawkins, 15, joined the unit because she “was amazed at how the guard performed at competitions and I knew I wanted to the same.”

Co-captain Jessie Schlaudecker, 16, said she still gets nervous before stepping out onto the field. Those nerves, however, go away when the performance begins and the training kicks in.

While the guard members said they enjoy performing and get used to the long practice hours, one task seems to be their least favorite. In order to clear out a space in the cafeteria before practice, the members must move tables.

But the hard work bonds the members into a family that enjoys the results they get when fans cheer during their Friday night halftime routines.

The unit performed their first show Friday night before their parents.

The first home football game is Sept. 13 at Griffin Field.

Cash’s guard, which includes one male student, will continue to practice their intricate moves throughout the football season and work on winter guard shows.

In the end, they’ll learn five routines and switch between the various pieces of equipment.

“You hear the music, you see the flags and that is why they are so important,” Holland said. “They really do complete the show.”