It’s hard for Eileen Cunningham to pinpoint, exactly, when St. Ann’s Colorguard began. “I’m no historian,” said the director of the Colorguard in a telephone interview with the Reporter, “but my mom was a majorette in it… so it must be 85 years old, at least.”
Cunningham has been involved with the unit for the past 50 of those 85 years. She joined the team at 12 years old, and later on her daughter marched for a dozen more. “It’s quite the family affair,” she said.
For those who are unfamiliar with a color guard, it is a combination of dance and interpretive movements with flags, sabres, and mock guns. While historically accompanied by a marching band, it can also be accompanied by a wide array of musical arrangements. St. Ann’s, for example, competes in Winter Guard International, which is indoors and set to pre-recorded music.
The color guard concept has a rich history in Dorchester. In the 1990s, it could seem like “almost every girl in Dorchester was in St. Ann’s Colorguard, and almost everyone knew about it,” said Katie Curtain, a former marcher and current instructor for St. Ann’s. She participated from 1989 to 1996; her mother had marched when Katie was young, and her daughter Lila, now 9, joined when she was 5 years old and hasn’t stopped.
Curtain’s and Cunningham’s mother-daughter stories are just two of many: 95 percent of St. Ann’s Colorguard instructors today are alumnae, most of whom have returned to Dorchester to look on as their own daughters march.
“It is such a proud moment to watch her and her group compete each week just like I did,” Curtain said.
Apart from costumes and themes, not much has changed in the half-century that Cunningham has been involved with the color guard. She sees that as a good thing and as a reason for the organization’s perseverance.
As to the expense of participating, they are “out-of-sight,” she said.
It costs the team $3,000 a month to practice in Dorchester’s Victory Road Armory, so recently she had to raise the per-child cost from $75 to $100 a month.
“We try to do what we can,” Cunningham said. “We never turn anyone away. It’s not a try-out; we have a place for everybody.”
For the travel to the championship competition in Dayton, Ohio, families pay a portion of the cost and the Colorguard supplies the rest. The organization operates on a volunteer basis, so they’ve had to do a lot of fundraising, turning to alumni for help.
Nonetheless, they’ve continued to uphold their model – the “pursuit of excellence” – and have their sights set on going to Dayton again this year. There is an open house scheduled for July 11 to welcome fresh faces at any level and ability who are interested in becoming a part of the St. Ann’s Colorguard tradition.
While the number of participants fluctuates, the girls are broken into three squads based on age and ability. Practices are rigorous: During the season, they can be two or three hours, twice or thrice a week, depending on the team, but, to the parents and kids, the effort is worth it.
“Color guard has been great for all girls in teaching them hard work, discipline, and structure while having fun,” Curtin said. “I could not ask for a better organization to have my daughter in.”
The open house will be held on July 11 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Victory Road Armory, 70 Victory Rd., Dorchester. Those who cannot attend but are interested in participating in St. Ann’s Colorguard can reach out to Eileen Cunningham at email@example.com. Those who wish to donate can do so online, at stannscolorguard.com.