Organizers of 2018 Winter Guard World Championships here are planning a special acknowledgement for the color guard from Marjory Douglas Stoneman High School, a member of which was a victim in the Feb. 14 mass shooting in Parkland, Fla.
The team flew into the region Wednesday to make their return for the 41st anniversary of the Dayton event, which brings thousands of people to the Miami Valley over two weekends.
Gina Montalto, a 14-year-old freshman, was a member of the “A team” color guard at the school, according to Stoneman Douglas Band Director Alex Kaminsky.
Gina was one of 17 people killed and 17 injured when 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz allegedly opened fire at the school.
Kaminsky, who is traveling with the team, said Gina would likely have been part of the world championships next year.
“Gina has been in our hearts and minds every single day and we basically have designated this season to her," he said.
The Stoneman students checked in at the University of Dayton Arena about 4:30 p.m.
The team will be among hundreds from all over the U.S., Canada and the Netherlands to compete in the color guard championships.
Kaminsky said all school-related activities shut down for a couple of weeks after the shooting.
“When our world guard first made a public appearance after the shooting, it was to attend a regional competition,” Kaminsky said, adding that they did not compete in that event. “They were honored in a very respectful, honorable way.”
Kaminsky said the following weeks were difficult as the team went back on the competition circuit leading up to this weekend’s championship.
“It was difficult for them emotionally and physically to be able to perform,” he said. “They wanted to be able to get back to doing what they were doing before, but they found it was more difficult than they realized.”
Kaminsky said subsequent performances have improved.
“They were getting their identity back,” he said. “Now they are in the best state of mind that I have seen them since the tragedy took place. They are excited to be here. They just want to do what they love to do and share that with everyone else.”
The Stoneman Douglas group will be wearing pins that read "MSD Strong" and feature 17 dots to remember the lost. The team will be selling T-shirts to benefit a scholarship in Gina's name.
WGI plans to have an appropriate acknowledgement Saturday evening after the world class finals, according to Bart Woodley, the director of operations and sponsor relations for WGI.
“Their director asked that they be treated like every other group. They are trying to return to normalcy,” he said.
The Stoneman Douglas color guard team has been a finalist in the championship six times, according to Crystal Walker, WGI Sport of the Arts marketing manager.
"They're just going to put their hearts into everything that they do on that floor, knowing that it's going to be a very meaningful performance because of what's happened," Walker said.
The team is scheduled to perform at 1:30 p.m. Thursday at the University of Dayton Arena, according to WGI.
Barbara Farber, a driver for Dayton-based Buckeye Charter Service, said she is transporting the team to their various destinations while they are in town.
“I’m looking forward to seeing them because they come every year, and I’ve been their driver a couple of times. They’re good kids,” Farber said ahead of the team’s arrival on Wednesday.
Tens of thousands of dancers, flag twirlers, percussionists and other performers, along with their mentors and family members, are converging on the Dayton area to compete over the next two weekends in the 2018 Winter Guard World Championships.
This will be the 41st anniversary for the two-weekend event. It draws one of the largest crowds to the area, bringing in an estimated $20 million to the region, according to the Dayton Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Overall, 628 groups, more than 15,000 participants, will compete in color guard, percussion and winds championships this weekend and next.
A total of 341 color guards will compete starting with preliminary qualifying rounds Thursday and finals being held Saturday.
“Groups work all season towards their performances this weekend,” Walker said.
Making the trip to Dayton is one of the biggest hurdles for many of the teams, Walker said.
“Especially those located on the west coast or in other countries,” she said. “Some groups fundraise for years to make the journey.”
Percussion teams and winds musicians from across the U.S. and other countries will arrive next week, as competitions proceed from Thursday to Saturday, April 19-21, for percussion performances, April 21-22 for winds competitions.
Events are being held at five locations in the Dayton and Cincinnati regions: University of Dayton Arena; Dayton Convention Center; Wright State University Nutter Center; Cintas Center at Xavier University; and the BB&T Arena at Northern Kentucky University.
Tickets for the color guard competitions went on sale this morning and can be obtained by calling the UD Box Office (937) 229-4433. Tickets for the percussion and winds events can be ordered by calling (866) 589-7161. For more details, visit wgi.org.