The North Star Circuit competition is coming to Coulee Region for the first time March 25, with the La Crosse and Onalaska Winter Guard teams to take the stage as exhibition groups.
The North Star Circuit of Color Guards for the Upper Midwest has been around since 1962, and in recent years the local winter guard teams have traveled to the Minneapolis area for competitions. For the inaugural local event, held at 6 p.m. at Onalaska High School, the La Crosse Stars and the Onalaska Winter Guard will perform but not compete, with River City Rhythm, Minnesota Brass Inc. and Royal Guard from the Twin Cities and a team from UWL up for scores.
“Always performing out of town limits who knows who we are and what we do, so I’m really happy we have a chance to perform for our community,” said Lincoln Middle School band director Jason Harden. “I feel we have a good product for young people, and they may see it and think, ‘I want to join.’ “
Said Onalaska High School band director Robbie Coe, “We really encourage the community to come out support local students — it’s an opportunity for someone to get a really good snapshot of what students are doing in our area.”
Last year was the first official season for the La Crosse Stars, founded by Jason Harden. The group originally started in January 2020, but the pandemic forced them to take a long pause before regaining momentum during the 2021-2022 school year.
Winter guard, similar to color guard but performed indoors to prerecorded music, is a staple in many schools but absent from the School District of La Crosse until Harden’s daughter expressed interest in such a program. With years of experiencing in the marching arts — he previously performed with Suncoast Sound, Magic of Orlando and the University of Central Florida Marching Knights — Harden was just the person to get a local group off the ground.
With grant funds, Harden put together a cadet team, comprised mostly of middle school students, and a varsity team with majority high school students. The groups include members from other regional schools that do not offer Winter or Color Guard. Currently, the La Crosse Stars have a total of 19 participants across both sectors who perform a combination of dance, flag twirling and prop use.
The Onalaska Winter Guard, which includes 12 students, was established 5 years ago, and is led by Kay Dale. It is an auditioned extension of the band, with members also part of fall guard.
“I think it gives students an opportunity to travel and perform do something they really enjoy,” says Coe. “It gets them connected to the school which is a really important aspect of student success. The more involved they are at school the greater the chance of participation and the higher the rate of graduation and success beyond high school.”
Though not competing in the March 25 event, the Onalaska and La Crosse teams will still receive detailed feedback from the five judge panel, which will prove valuable in improving their craft. As to be expected, the La Crosse Stars were underdogs their first season, and Harden told team parents his goal was to get last place in every event that year.
“Of course, I got a little chuckle from that, but the way I think of it is, we didn’t exist before,” explains Harden. “And if we can work hard and travel a bit and just be in the show we made a big accomplishment. And we did come in last place, well, one was second to last. And I was happy about that.”
Adds Harden, “My thinking with competition is we can only control our performance. We’re comparing to scores we received last year or from the previous show. And we’re doing well.”
The La Crosse Stars practice on Sundays throughout the school year, with an additional day each week leading up to competitions. They recently performed at the Dance for Hope, and have four competitions and a showcase this season.
The Onalaska Winter Guard polishes their skills throughout the year, as they participate in marching band and fall guard.
Harden hopes to grow the La Crosse program as funding allows. Financial contributions are welcomed and will go towards flags, props, performance floors, clinicians, choreography, competitions fees, supplies and member scholarships.
“I feel really motivated to keep this going,” says Harden. “I have felt compelled to bring this experience to other kids.”
Tickets are $12 for general admission, $8 for students and free for age 5 and under. For more information or to buy tickets visit lacrossestars.org.
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"Always performing out of town limits who knows who we are and what we do, so I'm really happy we have a chance to perform for our community. I feel we have a good product for young people, and they may see it and think, 'I want to join.' "