With flags in hand, patriotism in the air and the enthusiasm of a stadium packed to the rafters with more than 30,000 fans and supporters, members of the "All-DCI" color guard contingent of the U.S. Army All-American Marching Band took the field on Jan. 3 in San Antonio, Texas for a special halftime performance at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

The 22 color guard performers, who are all seniors in high school, were selected to represent Drum Corps International based on their participation in some of DCI's most notable color guard sections. The group complemented the U.S. Army All-American Marching Band which recognizes the top high school senior marching musicians from across the country. Band members are chosen by a selection committee consisting of the National Association for Music Education (MENC), Drum Corps International, head director and show coordinator Bob Buckner, and New Jersey-based sports marketing and event management company SportsLink.

Along with the members of the marching band, color guard performers, who came from more than 20 schools and 15 states across the country, were flown into San Antonio over the winter holiday for four days of rehearsal and activities before the halftime performance at the Alamodome. Because of the very short window available for rehearsals, the color guard members were given their basic routine to learn from instructors in an online video just a few weeks before the trip.

"It was a little rough learning most of the color guard work within such a limited amount of time, but who doesn't like a little challenge in life?" said Sean Coffey, who was selected for the All-DCI Color Guard as a member of the Jersey Surf. "It was pretty difficult to practice outside in the ice and snow here in Indiana," joked Carrie VanDoren of the Carolina Crown about her pre-trip training. "However, everyone did their part in trying to learn as much of the color guard routine as possible before arriving, and it all worked out. "

"It was cool to find out that we all had so much in common even though most of us didn't know each other to begin with," said Shelby Coons of the Glassmen about her fellow performers. "Everyone came really well prepared so practices were a breeze, and we were able to have a lot of fun while soaking up the week-long experience."

While the main focus for the participating high school students was on rehearsals – the group had less than 24 hours to learn and perfect their five minute field performance – band and color guard members also had the opportunity to participate in a variety of special events that are a central part of the prestigious "All-American" experience.

Band members kicked off the week in San Antonio with a welcome dinner before their very first rehearsal together, and in the successive days were treated to a New Year's Eve party and a special welcome barbeque with all members of the All-American experience including the football players. Coffey said that among the highlights for him was a sightseeing trip to the Alamo, a boat ride on the San Antonio Riverwalk, and a trip to a rodeo that he says, "is not something a kid from New Jersey gets to see every day!"

"From the moment I arrived in San Antonio until I left the hotel to get on my plane home, I was treated like a rock star," said Ashley Pittman who has been a member of the Cadets' color guard section since 2005.

Representing 11 different DCI corps, the 22 color guard performers in addition to the marching band musicians had the opportunity to work with some of the top music educators and instructors in the country, and throughout the week were introduced to a variety of individuals enlisted in the U.S. Army, the primary sponsor of the All-American Bowl. In addition to their performance, that interaction with the U.S. servicemen and women is something that many of the students will take away as one of the most unforgettable highlights of the overall experience.

"From start to finish it was a very emotional thing looking out to the crowd to see many of the people from all over the United States who serve our country," said Coffey. "I was honored to perform for people who have given so much for our safety and our freedom," said VanDoren. "We met some amazing soldiers and heroes during this event, and it made me realize the sacrifices that are made every day in order to maintain our freedoms."

Related Links:

The complete halftime performance of the 2009 U.S. Army All-American Marching Band was presented in a special Webcast on Jan. 3.

View rehearsal and performance footage at BandDirector.com.

In addition to the 22 All-DCI color guard members, several other students with drum corps experience filled the ranks of the All-American Marching Band.

View a complete list of performers at MENC.org.

Music teachers can nominate current high school juniors until January 15 for participation in the 2010 All-American Marching Band. Early in February, invitations will be sent to nominees to submit their All-American application and audition materials.

Learn more at MENC.org.

The U.S. Army All-American Bowl is the premier high school football game in the nation, featuring the country's top high school senior football players and played annually since 2000.

Learn more at USArmyAllAmericanBowl.com.

Photos courtesy MENC.